Ousted Pakistani PM returns to face trial

Nawaz Sharif (centre) talking to reporters on Wednesday in London, where he had gone for his wife's cancer treatment. The case against him, linked to properties his family owns in the city, could see him jailed.
Nawaz Sharif (centre) talking to reporters on Wednesday in London, where he had gone for his wife's cancer treatment. The case against him, linked to properties his family owns in the city, could see him jailed.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Sharif calls graft case against family over undeclared assets political revenge

ISLAMABAD • Pakistan's ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif returned home yesterday to face trial in a corruption case he calls political revenge, but which opposition leaders have termed as accountability of the rich and powerful.

Sharif, who had been in London with his wife, who is undergoing cancer treatment, is due to appear in court today over allegations linked to London properties the family owns, charges that could see the former premier jailed.

Allies of Sharif, who has served as prime minister twice and was toppled in a military coup in 1999, have called the proceedings a political vendetta and hinted at intervention by elements of the powerful army.

Sharif, 67, denounced the process in an interview on Wednesday in London before flying home.

"This case in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) is highly bogus and fake, which doesn't have links to corruption," he told Geo TV, comparing the process with charges laid against him after General Pervez Musharraf seized power in 1999.

"There is no kickback or misappropriation of the national exchequer," he added.

The Supreme Court disqualified Sharif from office in July over unreported sources of an annual income of about US$10,000 (S$13,590), a salary the former premier denies ever receiving.

The court also ordered the NAB to investigate and conduct a trial into the Sharif family's wider finances, including the London properties.

Sharif maintains control of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, which elected close ally Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as prime minister after Sharif was disqualified. Also facing trial before the NAB court is Sharif's daughter, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, and her husband, Muhammad Safdar. They have all pleaded not guilty.

The allegations stem from the Panama Papers leaks last year that appeared to show that Maryam and her two brothers owned offshore holding companies registered in the British Virgin Islands, and used them to buy upscale flats in London.

A Supreme Court-appointed investigatory panel deemed that the family's wealth did not match its income, and accused Maryam and her brothers of signing forged documents to obscure ownership of companies used to buy the properties.

The Supreme Court has ordered the NAB investigation and trial to be concluded within six months, which would probably bring a verdict before a general election due next year. Maryam, who has increasingly played a prominent role in the PML-N, has been seen as her father's political heir.

This week, however, two party insiders said the leadership had decided that Mr Shahbaz Sharif, the former premier's brother, was likely to be the party's candidate for prime minister next year.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 03, 2017, with the headline 'Ousted Pakistani PM returns to face trial'. Print Edition | Subscribe