By Yasmeen Aftab Ali
The accountability court sentenced former premier Nawaz Sharif to 10 years RI and his daughter seven years RI in the Avenfield reference with two references still pending. The former first son in law was awarded one year imprisonment. Further, Nawaz and Maryam have been fined £8m ($10.6m) and £2m respectively. Sharif’s sons are already absconders in the case. It’s yet to be seen if they can be bought home by Interpol.
Both Nawaz and Maryam stand disqualified from contesting the next two elections.
The onus of proving the money trail was upon the shoulders of the accused. The verdict states Nawaz has been unable to show a legitimate money trail to purchase the up-scale flats. Interestingly a video released by SAMAA TV on the day of the judgment prior to announcement shows Maryam Nawaz and Ishaq Dar entering the Avenfield apartment where, it was assumed, the members of former first family heard the verdict.
The court has also ordered that the said properties be confiscated by the federal government. This however may not be a simple procedure.
Rachel Davies Teka, Head of Advocacy at Transparency International UK, stated, “We are calling on the UK authorities to investigate the London-based assets identified in this conviction and ensure that Sharif and his family are no longer able to enjoy any luxury homes that are found to have been bought with the proceeds of corruption. Furthermore we believe the UK must look into any other potentially criminal UK based assets owned by the Sharif family.”
“This will serve as an important test as to how serious the government is on cracking down on the prevalence of corrupt money in our capital. The laundering of dirty money is not confined to Russian oligarchs and it is important that we target illicit assets wherever they originate from.”
“The recent passing of legislation that will require British Overseas Territories to publicly reveal the true owners of companies is a key step towards preventing the purchase of UK property with suspicious wealth. The UK must now ensure it follows through on this legislation, so that we no longer need to rely on leaks like the Panama Papers to reveal cases such as this one.”
The Criminal Finances Act introduced in 2017 in UK introduces a new dimension in law for tackling money laundering and recovery of assets. The Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWOs) forms a basic element of the Act. With a legal conviction in the country of origin, UK can be approached by the Pakistan government regarding the Avenfield properties.
In majority cases the dissenting voices are from urban areas, whereas the verdict, its rationale, its impact may not be felt as strongly in rural areas as it may be felt in the urban areas
The fines imposed by the verdict procedurally in criminal cases are recovered as the last thing as arrears of land revenue. In case the convict is unable to pay he/she has to serve extra time in jail.
What is important at this point is how this decision will impact PML-N’s prospects in elections 2018.
First, it will depend upon whether or not Nawaz Sharif returns to Pakistan at this juncture. If he delays his return owing to his wife’s ill health, a statement already made by him that he and his daughter will return only once Begum Kulsoom has regained conscious (and one can only empathise with him on this score), due to uncertainty of her condition, there may be too much water under the bridge by the time he does return. A later statement gives news of the duo returning coming Friday but much depends on Begum Kulsoom’s health.
Second, in case he cannot return soon, the morale of the party will go down further, putting PML-N on a weak wicket. Already many have jumped the ship, many sitting on the fence will jump and there are no two guesses as to which side it will be. As seen, once verdict was announced there is hardly if any protests witnessed on streets against it.
Third, PML-N party’s future is at stake upon whether or not the party supremo returns to fight the battle or decides to stay back. Even the main beneficiary of this decision, Mian Shahbaz Sharif candidate for prime minister-ship under the flag of PML N, may be fighting a losing battle if Nawaz does not return before elections.
PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari though, thinks otherwise and stated upon the verdict being delivered that PML N will take political mileage of this situation to garner sympathy votes. He also claimed that Nawaz will not return to the country having taken asylum in England. He was also of the opinion that Nawaz Sharif’s vote bank will shift to Maryam but unlikely to shift to Shahbaz. Few can predict political scene better than Zardari. If one goes by his opinion, PML-N is in a tough position. It is Nawaz Sharif’s call to decide if he will make a personal sacrifice to save his party.
However if Nawaz does return timely, it will be a boost to not only his party but also to his supporters. It can put PML-N on a very strong wicket as it faces elections 2018. It can win the party the sympathy votes Zardari mentioned.
There are some interesting points that need to be kept in mind in making an analysis of PML-N’s standing beside Nawaz Sharif’s return.
One; in spite of a general quietness of his supporters against the verdict, how much has it actually damaged the party vote bank? Damaged it has, but is this damage per constituency large enough for PML N to lose elections?
Two, the dissenting voices against PML N one witnessed on the mainstream and social media-is this dissention in pockets alone large enough to dent the overall result? Or to rephrase is it widespread enough to have an impact?
Three, in majority cases the dissenting voices are from urban areas, whereas the verdict, its rationale, its impact may not be felt as strongly in rural areas as it may be felt in the urban areas.
Four, which way will Punjab vote post-verdict scenario? Being the largest province population-wise and a traditional PML-N stronghold this question is of crucial importance.
Five, a report of UNDP published recently says that 64 percent of the total population is below the age of 30 while 29pc is between the ages of 15 and 29 years. This is a huge demographic difference from the profile of voters of 2013, which can be a determining factor in the final analysis.
The game is not over till it is!
The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org tweets at @yasmeen_9.