ISLAMABAD • Former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif was sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison by a corruption court in Islamabad yesterday, a judgment that will likely dent the former ruling party's prospects ahead of national elections this month.
Delivering the verdict, Justice Mohammad Bashir handed down an £8 million (S$14 million) fine against Sharif, 68.
The judge also gave Sharif's daughter Maryam and her husband, Muhammad Safdar, a seven-year and a one-year sentence, respectively. The court also ordered the seizure of the family's London apartments that were at the heart of the case.
Sharif and his children have been in London since last month attending to his ailing wife, who is receiving cancer treatment in Britain. He will appeal against the ruling, said his lawyer, Mr Munawar Duggal.
But analysts said that Sharif was in a "difficult position" ahead of the July 25 election.
"If Sharif does not come back, his party is over," said political analyst Rasool Bukhsh Rais. "If he comes back, he will have to fight cases and he will be suffering a lot - but in this way, he will save his party."
The verdict is the conclusion of a two-year graft scandal that engulfed Pakistani politics following the 2016 leak of the so-called Panama Papers, which showed that Sharif's family used offshore accounts to buy high-end London apartments.
The former premier was disqualified from the top job by the Supreme Court in July last year, his third ousting since the 1990s.
He was also banned from politics for life and had handed the presidency of his then ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party over to his brother Shahbaz, who is leading the party's campaign ahead of Pakistan's second democratic transition of power.
The court decision came after an anti-corruption campaign led by former cricket star and opposition leader Imran Khan, who stands to benefit from Sharif's conviction.
Despite the corruption allegations, Sharif continued to hold rallies across the country and his image is front and centre of his party's campaign posters ahead of the July 25 vote. He has criticised the judiciary's handling of his case and has said the nation's powerful military - which removed him in a bloodless coup in 1999 - has conspired to manipulate the vote against him.
The six-man Supreme Court-mandated investigative team that brought about his latest downfall included two active members of the military's intelligence arms.
"Using the pretext of Panama Papers, in which I was not named, a 'case' was concocted," he wrote in his party's election manifesto published this week.
"Will the destiny of Pakistan be decided by a small coterie, a secretive cabal, or a conspiratorial clique, or the ordinary men and women of Pakistan by exercising their power of the ballot?"
Maryam Sharif tweeted that the conviction was a small price to pay for fighting "hidden forces".
Following the ruling, a jubilant and emotional Mr Khan addressed a political rally in the northern Swat valley. "I am thankful to Allah because after 22 years of struggle, I see a powerful person being punished today," he said.
"You should thank God because the looted money belongs to you."
BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE