Islamabad: Pakistan's deposed premier Nawaz Sharif was on Friday sentenced in absentia to 10 years of rigorous imprisonment by an anti-graft court in one of the three corruption cases against him in the Panama Papers scandal, dealing a huge blow to his party ahead of the elections on July 25.
Sharif's 44-year-old daughter and co-accused Maryam was given seven years of rigorous imprisonment and a fine of two million pounds, while her husband Capt (retd) Muhammad Safdar was jailed for one year for not cooperating with the anti-graft authorities.
Judge Muhammad Bashir read the verdict before a packed courtroom in the capital Islamabad on Friday.
The case relates to the ownership of four apartments in the upmarket Park Lane neighbourhood of London, the capital of the United Kingdom.
Sharif was dismissed as prime minister last July over corruption allegations, with the Supreme Court ordering the anti-corruption watchdog to launch proceedings against him and his family.
In 2016, an International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) leak of 11.5m legal documents - dubbed the 'Panama Papers' - showed the Sharif family had secured a $13.8m loan in 2007, using the apartments as collateral.
"Today, the anti-corruption court's verdict … has made it clear that these assets, the Avenfield apartments, were acquired through corrupt means," prosecutor Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi told reporters outside the courtroom.
With this verdict, Maryam Nawaz now stands disqualified from standing in Pakistan's July general election as a candidate. Her husband Muhammad Safdar was also sentenced to one year in prison, and will stand disqualified from running the upcoming polls.
In April, the Supreme Court effectively ended Nawaz Sharif's political career in parliament by banning him from running for public office for life.
Following the verdict, a defiant Sharif told reporters in London that he had not been given a fair trial and that he would face his sentence, although he did not specify a date for his return to Pakistan.
Nawaz's brother, Shehbaz Sharif, the president of the PML-N, said the party rejected the verdict, and will use all legal and constitutional means to challenge the verdict.
"I believe that the timing of this verdict is an attempt to influence the outcome of the election," Shehbaz, a former chief minister of northern Punjab state, said at a press conference in the eastern city of Lahore.
Both father and daughter had earlier asked for a delay in the verdict, so that they may have attended the hearing in person, as they did regularly throughout proceedings.
In a tweet after the verdict, Maryam Nawaz said people stood by her father. "Well done Nawaz Sharif! You weren't afraid, and you didn't bow down. You gave priority to Pakistan over your own personal interests. The people stand by with you. You will be victorious."
Both are currently in London, where they are tending to Kulsoom Nawaz, Nawaz’s wife, who is critically ill and is being treated at a hospital there.
"I am not a dictator who will run away from the courts," Nawaz told a press conference on Wednesday, saying he would face whatever punishment the court handed down.
Verdicts in two further cases against the Sharif family are still pending.
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