Pakistan Court Suspends Ex-Premier Sharif's Graft Conviction
(Bloomberg) -- A Pakistani High Court suspended former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s 10-year jail sentence on Wednesday, a judgement that may revive his political career after his party was ousted from power in July’s national election.
The two-member panel also suspended convictions against Sharif’s daughter, Maryam, and her spouse Muhammad Safdar, Ahsan Iqbal, a senior member of Sharif’s party, said outside the court. They were jailed in July and the former premier is expected to be released within hours.
“Today’s verdict shows that Sharif was politically victimized,” Iqbal told reporters in Islamabad amid celebrations by members of the former ruling party. “This was only done because of election rigging.”
Sharif’s freedom will boost his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, which lost the controversial July 25 ballot to his main rival and now Prime Minister Imran Khan, who led a relentless anti-corruption campaign. Sharif denies any wrong doing and complained of political victimization orchestrated by the powerful military and judiciary. The three-time ex-premier was disqualified from office by the Supreme Court a year before his jailing. Both the army and the judiciary have denied charges of manipulation.
The suspension of his sentence will stir up Pakistan’s political environment as Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) administration faces the daunting task of fixing economic challenges, including the widening of twin current-account and budget deficits and rapidly dwindling foreign reserves.
“Sharif’s release will reinvigorate the opposition,” said Uzair Younus, a South Asia director at Washington-based consultancy Albright Stonebridge Group LLC. “The party workers will be energized and can use his release to fight a moral case in the public domain against a PTI government that is still learning how to rule.”
It will also likely add to calls for Khan to investigate charges of poll rigging after widespread allegations of military-led interference. The former cricket-star had pledged to probe his rivals’ complaints, but so far little has been done.
Khan was seen by analysts and diplomats as the military’s top choice for prime minister despite his and the army’s denials. Sharif, who was ousted in a 1999 coup during a previous stint in power, has clashed repeatedly with the armed forces and his jailing was to some seen as part of a wider power struggle.
Sharif’s release may also fuel a civil-military conspiracy around the idea that the army is wanting to keep Khan’s administration on its toes. The forces have ruled Pakistan for much of its 71-year history and continues to flex its muscles over many policy decisions.
The army is “stage managing” the political scene, said Burzine Waghmar, a member of the Centre for the Study of Pakistan at SOAS University of London. They want Sharif to play a role of a “seasoned politician who is happy to play his two-bit role as a constructive opposition as Khan’s administration get its feet wet.”
The legal drama began with corruption allegations stemming from the so-called Panama Paper leaks in 2016, which showed the Sharif family used offshore accounts to buy luxury apartments in London. Sharif and his daughter were briefly released on parole last week to attend the funeral of his wife Kulsoom, who died in London after a battle with cancer.
Following an appeal, the court also ordered a retrial of the corruption case brought by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) that had alleged Sharif failed to justify his income while buying high-end properties in London.
However, Sharif isn’t off the hook and is also being tried on two other graft charges in the accountability court. The NAB said in a statement that it would challenge the suspension in the Supreme Court.
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