Pakistan: Court upholds suspension of Sharif jail term

Supreme Court rules National Accountability Bureau failed to provide grounds for cancelling bail and overstepped authority

KARACHI, Pakistan - Pakistan’s Supreme Court Monday upheld the suspension of the jail term of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif handed down last July in the Panama Papers case, court records and local media reported.

A five-member bench headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar unanimously rejected an appeal filed by the country's corruption watchdog, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), against the Islamabad High Court’s suspension of Sharif's 10-year jail term and his release on bail.

The court ruling said that the NAB had failed to provide "grounds for cancellation of bail" and that the Islamabad High Court had not exceeded its authority in granting bail to Sharif and two of his family members.

The three-time premier has been convicted in two of a total of three corruption cases against him, and exonerated in the third.

In the first case, Sharif, 69, was sentenced last July to 10 years in jail in a corruption case by an accountability court in the capital Islamabad, but the Islamabad High Court suspended the conviction in September. His daughter and potential political heir Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Mohammad Safdar had also been sentenced to seven years and one year in prison respectively in the same case. The two are also on bail.

In the second case -- known as Al Azizia -- in December Sharif got seven years in jail for owning assets beyond known income sources. Sharif also challenged the second conviction in the Islamabad High Court, which will start the hearing on his appeal this week.

Last September, at the directive of the Supreme Court, the National Accountability Bureau accused Sharif of corruption by making assets in Saudi Arabia and the UAE in the name of his underage sons during his first term as premier in the early 1990s.

Sharif, however, denied the charges, and accused the "establishment" -- a term meant to designate the country's powerful army -- and a section of the judiciary of "targeting" him and his family.

Thorny relations with military

The former premier has had a history of frosty relations with the army.

In July 2017, he was disqualified by the Supreme Court over the Panama Papers scandal, which also led to the filing of the three corruption cases. Not long after, the top court also barred him from holding the leadership of his party.

Sharif served as premier in 1990-1992, 1997-1999, and 2013-2017, unable to complete even a single five-year term. His two previous governments were dismissed over corruption charges and through a bloodless military coup in 1992 and 1999, respectively.

His younger brother, and three-time chief minister of Punjab -- the country's most populous province -- Shehbaz Sharif is already in NAB custody over a housing scam. Shehbaz's son, and the opposition leader in Punjab Assembly, Hamza Shehbaz is also facing inquiries in connection with multiple corruption cases.

Despite arrests and a visible opposition from the country's powerful military establishment, the Sharif's PML(N) came in second in general elections last July, securing 82 seats in the 342-member lower house.

The party bounced back in by-elections in October, clinching some key seats won by Prime Minister Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in the general elections. It included a seat won by Khan himself from Lahore in July.



Photographie : Archive, Anadolu Agency




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