ISLAMABAD • A Pakistani court has issued an arrest warrant for ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after he failed to appear before the court over corruption allegations, local media said yesterday, but he can avoid arrest by paying bail.
In Pakistan, "bailable arrest warrants" often act as a warning to deter absences from court, but a judge can later issue non-bailable warrants that are more serious and could see Mr Sharif arrested when he returns home.
Mr Sharif missed the hearing as he is undertaking a religious pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, Dawn and other English-language newspapers reported. Mr Sharif had spent previous weeks tending to his wife in London, where she is receiving cancer treatment.
Mr Sharif faces three separate corruption charges from the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), an anti-corruption body which has its own courts. His two sons and his daughter are also facing NAB trials.
Mr Sharif, 67, resigned in July after the Supreme Court disqualified him from holding office over an undeclared source of income but the veteran leader maintains his grip on the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party.
The Sharifs have called the corruption proceedings against them a conspiracy, hinting at intervention by the military, but opponents have hailed it as a rare example of the rich being held accountable. The army has denied playing a role.
The claims against the former prime minister stemmed from the Panama Papers leak last year, which sparked a media frenzy over the luxurious lifestyles and high-end London property portfolio owned by his family.
Mr Sharif's PML-N party has stuck behind its leader but, as the legal pressure builds, cracks are beginning to appear in its unity ahead of general elections due to be held sometime next year.
Federal Minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination Riaz Pirzada became the most high-profile voice of dissent to speak out publicly last week when he called for Mr Sharif's younger brother, Punjab provincial chief minister Shahbaz Sharif, to take over the party leadership.
"We don't object to Nawaz's leadership but we are concerned about how the party will win the next elections," Mr Pirzada said as he repeated his call this week to Pakistan's Geo News.
"There is a very visible split in the party, which has been divided into two groups" behind each brother, political analyst Rasul Bukhsh Rais said.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS