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Nawaz Sharif sentenced to 7 years in jail for graft

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Islamabad, 24 December : An anti-corruption court in Pakistan on Monday sentenced former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to seven years in prison for owning a steel factory abroad without disclosing its ownership. The ruling was slammed by his daughter, Maryam Nawaz, as “the “last hiccup of blind revenge”.

Judge Arshad Malik imposed hefty fines on the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) leader after ruling that Al-Azizia Steel Mills — a Saudi Arabian firm carrying the name of his son — belonged to the former Prime Minister and that he was unable to demonstrate how the project was funded, Dawn newspaper reported.

The police took Sharif, 68, into custody following the verdict by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) court here. He requested the judge to keep him imprisoned in Lahore, instead of the city of Rawalpindi near Islamabad.

The three-time Premier was expected to appeal against his latest conviction and maintained that he never misused his powers or indulged in corruption. “My conscience is clear as I never did corruption,” he told reporters outside the court following the verdict.

His daughter took to Twitter to criticise the ruling, saying: “One man has been sentenced for the fourth time. This is the last hiccup of blind revenge.”

Sharif’s sons — Hassan and Hussain — who are not in Pakistan, were declared absconders.

Sharif was, meanwhile, acquitted in another case of alleged corruption concerning the Flagship Investments firm in the UK for lack of evidence.

He and his sons were also accused of using 16 offshore companies to acquire and manage expensive properties.

A disqualification of 10 years from holding any public office was part of the sentences awarded to Sharif, said NAB special prosecutor Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi. The disqualification will go into effect following his release from jail after serving the seven-year sentence.

Sharif was taken away from the court premises amid strong security measures. The verdict led to clashes between his supporters and the security forces guarding the court.

The agitated PML-N supporters tried to enter the court and threw stones at the police personnel, who responded with tear gas.

Former Prime Minister and PML-N leader Shahid Khaqan Abbasi termed the verdict “another black decision” and said there was neither any evidence nor any witnesses in either case.

“This is another black (day) for Pakistan, another black decision,” he said.

The verdict was hailed by the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), whose Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said that the “real face of Nawaz Sharif has been unmasked today”.

He said that the people who were still defending Sharif “should be ashamed of themselves because the money involved in the scam belonged to the people of Pakistan”.

The trial against the Sharifs commenced on September 14, 2017 after Pakistan’s anti-corruption body filed three cases relating to the Avenfield properties case, Al-Azizia Steel Mills and Flagship Investment Limited on the Supreme Court’s directives in the landmark Panamagate verdict.

Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Muhammad Safdar were sentenced to 10 years, seven years and one year in prison, respectively by the same court in July in the Avenfield case — ownership of four luxury flats in London. They later bailed on appeal when the Islamabad High Court suspended their sentence in September.

The Supreme Court had set the deadline for Monday to wrap up the remaining two corruption cases against the former Prime Minister.

Sharif’s sons are accused in all three references whereas daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Muhammad Safdar were accused in the Avenfield reference only.

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