LAHORE, July 13: Pakistan’s former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam were arrested on Friday night upon their return to the country after their conviction in one of the three corruption cases against the powerful political family, less than two weeks before the country goes to polls.
The plane carrying Sharif, the supremo of the Pakistan Muslim League – N, and Maryam landed at Lahore’s Allama Iqbal Airport at 9:15 IST, nearly three hours late from the scheduled arrival.
The Etihad Airways flight EY243 arrived here from Abu Dhabi. Earlier they flew to the UAE capital from London, where Sharif’s wife Kulsoom, suffering from throat cancer, is battling for her life.
According to an airport official, they surrendered before a team of the country’s anti-graft body — The National Accountability Bureau — without any resistance.
Sharif reportedly refused to sit in the vehicle of the Rangers to get to the airport terminal. Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) officials took their passport for immigration.
According to media reports, dozens of security officials entered the plane after it landed and asked other passengers to leave. The duo’s passports were seized by a three-member FIA team, and both were permitted to meet Begum Shamim Akhtar, Sharif’s mother, in the Haj Lounge.
The two were convicted on July 6 in the Evenfield properties case linked to the Sharif family’s ownership of four luxury flats in London.
Both Sharif, 68, and Maryam, 44, have been sentenced by an accountability court to 10 and 7 years in prison respectively.
The Sharif family is now facing two more corruption cases in the accountability court — Al-Azizia Steel Mills and Flagship Investments — in which they are accused of money laundering, tax evasion and hiding offshore assets.
Sahrif and Maryam were later sent on a special private plane bound for Islamabad International Airport. Upon landing at the Islamabad airport, they will either be flown to Adiala Jail or driven to Attock Jail, Dawn newspaper reported.
Around 10,000 police officers have been deployed across the city to maintain law and order. The Punjab government has suspended mobile and internet services in Lahore.
Sharif’s PML(N) party, led by its President and Sharif’s younger brother Shahbaz, today managed to take out a rally despite imposition of section 144 that bars assembly of more than five people.
Earlier, media reports and an official of the Civil Aviation Authority had said their plane was diverted to Islamabad to avoid any law and order situation in Lahore as a large number of the PML(N) workers were heading in hundreds of vehicles to the city to cheer up their leader.
The rally kicked off at the Lohari Gate in the afternoon and could manage to proceed a few kilometers as party workers struggled to remove cargo containers on their way.
Close to the airport, Sharif’s supporters clashed with police which otherwise did not stop them from removing containers.
“It appears the Punjab caretaker government had reached a deal with the of PML(N) withdrawing thousands of policemen to give a free hand to reach close to the Lahore airport and wind up the rally,” a senior police officer told PTI.
“We have orders from our top command not to take action against the PML(N) rally participants,” he said.
The PML(N) workers joined in the rally from different points in Lahore.
Talking to reporters before reaching the airport, Shahbaz said “a sea of people” has turned up today to give historic reception to Sharif.
“The people of Lahore has given a verdict ahead of July 25 polls,” he declared. “I am thankful to the people of Lahore for coming out in such a huge number,” he said, adding that the people have rejected the decision of the court to convict Sharif and Maryam.
Speaking to the BBC at Abu Dhabi airport as he waited to change planes, Sharif said: “What credibility will these elections have when the government is taking such drastic action against our people and this crackdown is taking place all over the country?”
In a video message, tweeted by Maryam, the former premier urged his followers to stand with him and “change the fate of the country”.
“The country is at a critical juncture right now,” a grim looking Sharif said.
“I have done what I could. I am aware that I have been sentenced to 10 years (in prison) and I will be taken to a jail cell straight away. But I want the Pakistani nationals to know that I am doing this for you,” he said.
Sharif was disqualified by the Supreme Court last year in the Panama Papers case.
Sharif has been one of the country’s leading politicians for most of the past 30 years. He remains popular, especially in Punjab, the most populous and electorally significant province. (PTI)