(Agencies file) Source khaleej times
Pakistan's accountability court on Friday found former prime minister Nawaz Sharif guilty in the Avenfield case, awarding him 10 years rigorous imprisonment for owning assets beyond his means and one additional year for not cooperating with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
His daughter Maryam Nawaz, found guilty of abetment in obtaining high-end properties in London, has been given a seven-year sentence, in addition to disqualification from holding public office for ten years. Son-in-law Captain (retd) Safdar has also been given one year for not cooperating in the probe.
In addition to the sentencing, Sharif and Maryam have been fined 8 million British pounds and 2 million pounds respectively.
The court has also ordered the federal government to confiscate the London apartments.
The Avenfield case was one of three references filed by NAB on orders of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in the landmark Panama Case verdict on July 28, 2017. The other two are in their final stages and expected to conclude in the coming days.
The PML-N immediately rejected the verdict, calling it legally flawed. Addressing a hurriedly called press conference after the verdict, party president Shahbaz Sharif said he would "take all legal action possible so that justice may be served".
But the only legal option open to the party is appealing against the verdict at the Islamabad High Court.
"They can appeal for suspension of the sentence at the High Court," said Saif ul Mulook, a constitutional expert and former vice president of the Lahore High Court Bar Association.
The right to appeal is granted by Section-32 of the NAB Ordinance. But Nawaz will have to first face formal arrest because an absconder, according to the law, has no right of audience before a court.
"A two-judge bench will then decide his fate, but it is unlikely to make any difference."
Since the case has already been heard, exhaustively for six months, by a five-judge Supreme Court bench, it is implausible that any high court will weigh the same evidence in different light.
"We are still deliberating the appeal option but I feel we should take it," said Senator Mushahid Ullah Khan, former federal minister and PML-N spokesperson.
Coming so close to the election, which is due on July 25, the verdict is bound to affect PML-N's campaign of which Maryam was the centerpiece. So far, two conflicting theories are doing the rounds.
One predicts PML-N riding a sympathy vote back to parliament, especially since Nawaz has sold his disqualification to the electorate as a military-judiciary conspiracy. PML-N workers also repeatedly bring up the condition of Nawaz's ailing wife, dying of cancer in a London hospital, which opponents say is a tactic to exploit voters' emotions and sentiments.
The other says Nawaz's departure from the scene, as he begins his long jail sentence, will finally split the party into many factions. Already PML-N has faced mass desertions with some of Nawaz's long-time allies also jumping ship.
"The party campaign now depends on Nawaz's decision to return," said Rasul Baksh Rais, prominent analyst and professor of political science at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).
If Nawaz returns, regardless of the arrest, it will rally his core constituency and send a positive message to his supporters. Such actions, according to the professor, generally send positive signals to supporters.
Talking to reporters in London later in the evening Nawaz said he would return to Pakistan, but avoided giving a specific date.
But it is not as if PML-N had not factored in such a verdict. "Of course the sentence has not come quite as a shock," said Senator Mushahid. "Our workers are committed and mobilised, and we are confident of our chances in the election."
The Panama case dominated not just the political spectrum for the last two years, but also rattled the equity market. Over the last 12-13 months, despite the MSCI upgrade to emerging market status, news regarding Panama bled the Pakistan Stock Exchange to the tune of approximately 30pc.
"The impact was much worse in dollar terms," said Ehtisham Khan, head of capital markets at Pak-Brunei Investment Company. "Considering the 14-15pc collapse in the rupee in the last six months, the dollar-adjust loss is close to 40pc."
Yet the market remained largely calm yesterday as the accountability court kept delaying the announcement of the verdict throughout the day, first dropping 200 points into the red but closing at 45 points in the clear.
"The unpredictability of the case, which kept investors on edge all this time, has now largely petered out," added Ehtisham. "When it opens on Monday, the market is expected to return to fundamentals and a degree of normalcy."