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Nawaz Sharif gets 7 yrs imprisonment in Al-Azizia case, acquitted in Flagship

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By: Sajjad Hussain

Islamabad: An anti-corruption court in Pakistan on Monday sentenced ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif to seven years in jail in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills graft case while acquitting him in the Flagship Investments corruption case in the high-profile Panama Papers scandal.

Accountability Court II Judge Muhammad Arshad Malik announced the short verdict in the two remaining corruption cases against the Sharif family, after reserving the decision on December 19.

Judge Malik said there was concrete evidence against the 68-year-old former premier in the Al-Azizia case, and that he was unable to provide a money trail in the case.

The court found Sharif culpable in Al-Azizia case and sentenced him to seven years in jail and also imposed a USD 2.5 million fine on him, according to initial reports.

Judge Malik said that there was no case against Sharif in the Flagship reference.

Sharif was present in the court with his lawyers. He was immediately taken into custody. It was unclear whether he will be taken to Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail or Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat Jail.

The verdict was announced almost immediately after Sharif arrived in the courtroom. He has the option to challenge the verdict against him.

Three cases – Avenfield properties case, Flagship Investment case and Al-Azizia steel mills case – were launched by the National Accountability Bureau on September 8, 2017 following a judgment by the apex court that disqualified Sharif in the Panama Papers case in July, 2017.

In July, 2018 Sharif, his daughter Maryam and his son-in-law Captain (retd.) M Safdar were sentenced to 11 years, eight years and one year respectively in prison in the Avenfield properties case related to their purchase of four luxury flats in London through corrupt practices. However, the three were bailed out by the Islamabad High Court in September.

The Supreme Court set the deadline for December 24 to wrap up the remaining two corruption cases against the three-time former prime minister.

Security has been beefed up around the judicial complex, with heavy contingents of police and Rangers deployed around the building and along roads leading to the court.

A large number of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supporters and senior party leaders were present outside the court to show their support for the party’s supreme leader. Several senior PML-N leaders, including former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, were also present.

Following the verdict announcement, PML-N supporters clashed with security personnel. Tear gas and baton-charge was used to disperse the protesters.

Ahead of the verdict, Sharif said his conscience was clear.

“I do not have any sort of fear; my conscience is clear. I have done nothing that would force me to bow my head. (I) have always served the country and this nation with absolute honesty,” he said while talking to senior party leaders in a special meeting in Islamabad before going to the court.

He also said that there was no evidence against him. “I hope justice will be done and I will emerge victorious,” he said.

Sharif was driven to the court by his nephew Hamza Shehbaz in heavy police escort.

The apex court initially set six month deadline to conclude the three cases but it was subsequently increase around eight times on the request of the accountability court.

Sharif’s two sons – Hassan and Hussain – were also co-accused in all three cases but they were declared absconders for failing to appear before the court even for a single time.

The court decided to hear their cases separately once they returned back.

Ahead of the verdict, Sharif also met his younger brother and Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif at Ministers’ Enclave. The younger Sharif was also facing probe by the NAB.

Last week, the judge rejected application by Sharif’s lawyer Khawaja Harris to provide one week time to submit more documents but allowed him to provide any document by Friday last.

The judge also observed that the court was bound to follow December 24 final deadline set by the Supreme Court.

The three-time former prime minister and his family have denied any wrongdoing.

Sharif, who religiously followed the proceeding by appearing before the court for at least 78 times, told the media after the court reserved the judgment last week that he has not committed any corruption.

A long series of court cases in which the Sharif family have fought accusations of money laundering, tax evasion and hiding offshore assets culminated in Monday’s judgement.

Since September 2017, Sharif has appeared before the accountability courts some 165 times, Dawn reported.

The two references against Hussain and Hasan, that the accountability court took up Monday, concern the setting up of the Al-Azizia and Hill Metal Establishment in Saudi Arabia, and Flagship Investment in the UK. (PTI)

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