Islamabad/Karachi: Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif started his journey from London to Lahore on Friday and will be arrested upon landing following his anti-corruption court conviction last week ahead of a national vote that his party says has been manipulated.

Sharif and his daughter Maryam, who were handed down 10-year and seven-year sentences respectively last week, arrived in Abu Dhabi and will transfer onto Lahore. Two National Accountability Bureau teams have been assigned to arrest them when they arrive at the airport and they will be taken by helicopter to Islamabad, according to an official at the agency. “He is convicted, so he has to be arrested first and can’t be allowed to roam around in the city," information minister Syed Ali Zafar said in broadcast comments on Thursday.

The former ruling party headed by the ousted premier has accused security forces of arresting hundreds of loyalists in Lahore. Ministers in the provincial government have said only anti-social elements have been detained and police have placed shipping containers across the city to block roads to prevent protesters reaching the airport.

Sharif’s dramatic return before a 25 July 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.

Police officers are deployed at Lahore airport. Disgraced ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will be whisked away by helicopter to the federal capital of Islamabad when he returns to Lahore from London to face a 10-year prison sentence on corruption charges. Photo: AP
Police officers are deployed at Lahore airport. Disgraced ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will be whisked away by helicopter to the federal capital of Islamabad when he returns to Lahore from London to face a 10-year prison sentence on corruption charges. Photo: AP

Lahore arrests

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.

Sharif’s younger brother Shehbaz led late-night rallies across Lahore to drum up support for the ex-prime minister’s arrival and said the arrest of party workers amounted to “naked pre-poll rigging."

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