Back to prison

A clean chit for Sharif on all the charges did not even lie on the fringes of the faintest of possibilities


Editorial December 25, 2018

Nawaz Sharif goes back to jail.

Well, no bombshell that! To avoid the jail, the deposed prime minister needed an all-clear on all the counts in not just one but two corruption references that were being heard by the accountability court for about 15 months.

A clean chit for Sharif on all the charges did not even lie on the fringes of the faintest of possibilities. No bookie, however bold or adventurous, would have taken the risk of betting on an all-clear for the veteran politician. His imprisonment, therefore, was well in line with the likelihood.

However, different sentences, rather contrasting ones, in the two corruption references did spring a bit of surprise. While the accountability court jailed Sharif for seven years in the reference concerning the Al Azizia Steel Mills, it judged him clear of the charges in the other one that relates to the Flagship Investment Ltd, and also involves his sons Hussain Nawaz and Hasan Nawaz — both of whom have already been declared absconders.

In its short order, the court also declared fines worth Rs1.5 billion and $25 million slapped on Sharif as well as seizure of his properties. Sharif has been sentenced under Section 9(a) (v) of the NAB ordinance. It is the same section which had also been applied in case of his 10-year sentence in the Avenfield Poperties reference — alongside a seven-year sentence for his daughter Maryam Nawaz and one-year sentence for his son-in-law Muhammad Safdar — and which finds a person guilty of corruption if he maintains a standard of living not commensurate with his sources of income, unlike section 9(a)(iv) which finds a person guilty of corruption via dishonest means.

This had given room for the PML-N leaders to contend that their party quaid had not been  found guilty of corruption through any dishonest means in the Avenfield reference.

The same political narrative is bound to continue in the wake of the latest sentencing.

With the former prime minister understood to go into appeal against the Al Azizia judgment in the high court — just like he has done in the Avenfield Properties case — and the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) doing the same in case of the Flagship reference, the long legal battle — Sharifs vs state — that had started with the Panama Papers leak in April 2016 is set to continue.

But for now, a three-time prime minister and two-time chief minister, who saw great ups and downs during his roughly 35-year-long political career, is an inmate of the Lot Lakhpat jail in Lahore.

This is not the first time Sharif will be undergoing incarceration.

The ongoing legal battle has already led him to spend 69 days at Rawalpindi’s Adiala jail along with his daughter and son-inlaw while almost two decades ago, he has also remained locked at Karachi’s Malir jail along with Shehbaz Sharif — his younger brother and former Punjab chief minister who too is in the NAB custody currently — in the plane hijacking case set up by military dictator Pervez Musharraf.

Prime Minister Imran Khan insists that the “truth has come out of the court verdict”. But Sharif’s heir apparent Maryam Nawaz, who finally dusted off her Twitter handle after months, reminds him “… when tyranny crosses limit, it ends” and “it does not take long for [the] tides to turn”.

There are reports of the PML-N launching a political campaign from December 30 in order to inform the masses of the ‘real reasons’ behind the cases against Sharifs, with Maryam herself in the lead.

However, chances of an immediate turn of the tides look bleak, at best. For the time being, it’s just the Imran Khan show.

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