Islamabad: Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will be arrested upon landing at Lahore airport on Friday as he travels from London to appeal his conviction and face a 10-year jail sentence handed down by an anti-corruption court last week.
Sharif and his daughter Maryam, who was given a seven-year sentence by the same court, won’t be allowed to leave the airport, information minister Syed Ali Zafar said in broadcast comments. “He is convicted, so he has to be arrested first and can’t be allowed to roam around in the city," he said.
The dramatic return by Sharif before the 25 July national election follows a two-year corruption scandal that engulfed Pakistani politics after the leak of the so-called Panama Papers showed his family used offshore accounts to buy high-end London apartments. The former premier was disqualified from the top job by the Supreme Court last July, his third ousting since the 1990s.
“Nawaz Sharif is coming back to fulfill his promise to the masses," his younger brother Shehbaz said on Twitter. “He knows that he will be put behind bars."
The Sharif family has consistently denied any wrong doing and has criticized the judiciary’s handling of his case. Sharif said the nation’s powerful military — which removed him in a 1999 coup — has conspired to manipulate the vote against his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party in favour of his main political rival Imran Khan. On Wednesday, Sharif told reporters in London that the military’s main spy agency has intimidated the PML-N’s election candidates and has told them to switch parties or run as independents.
The armed forces, which have directly ruled Pakistan for almost half of its existence, have repeatedly denied interfering in the election. Khan, a former national cricket captain, has also rubbished claims that he is a tool of the army’s alleged attempts to bring a pliant government to power.
However, Mushahidullah Khan, the information secretary of Sharif’s party, said in broadcast comments early Thursday that hundreds of PML-N loyalists were being arrested in Lahore to prevent them from gathering at the airport.
Punjab’s provincial government has denied allegations of victimization, though local television channels showed police placing shipping containers across the city to block roads order to prevent protesters reaching the airport.