Court grants bail to ex-PM Nawaz Sharif ahead of return to Pakistan - GulfToday

Court grants bail to ex-PM Nawaz Sharif ahead of return to Pakistan


People ride past large banners of Nawaz Sharif displayed along a street ahead of his arrival in Lahore on Thursday. AFP

Tariq Butt, Correspondent / AFP

A Pakistan court granted bail on Thursday to former prime minister and graft convict Nawaz Sharif, removing the threat of arrest when he returns to the country from self-imposed exile this weekend, his lawyer said.

After nearly four years in the United Kingdom, Sharif is hoping to lead his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party through elections scheduled for January 2024.

The court's decision allows him to return to his political heartland of Lahore on Saturday for a welcome home rally, while his primary opponent Imran Khan languishes in jail.

"It's a new beginning," PML-N chairman Raja Muhammad Zafar-ul-Haq told AFP. "His return is poised to be a momentous development."

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) granted Sharif protective bail till Oct.24 in the Avenfield and Al Aziza cases before his return to Pakistan from abroad after four-year self-exile.

The move comes after an accountability court in Islamabad separately suspended the perpetual non-bailable arrest warrants issued for Nawaz’s arrest in the Toshakhana gifts case ahead of his homecoming on Oct.21.

The court suspended the arrest warrant till Oct.24 and restrained the authorities from detaining Sharif at the airport. The PML-N supremo's return would mark an end to almost four years of self-imposed exile.

He was convicted in the Al Azizia and the Avenfield corruption references by an accountability court on July 6, 2018. He was awarded 10 years imprisonment.

In October 2019, the IHC granted him bail on humanitarian grounds and he went to London for medical treatment. However, after failing to return to Pakistan and as his bail expired, the IHC declared him a proclaimed offender and absconder.

Prior to these decisions, Nawaz was facing non-bailable arrest warrants in the Al Azizia and Avenfield corruption cases as well as the Toshakhana gifts case.

The IHC divisional bench, led by Chief Justice Aamer Farooq and comprising Justice Miangul Hasan Aurangzeb, took up the former premier's plea seeking protective bail in the Avenfield and Al Aziza graft references.

His lawyer and former law minister Azam Nazir Tarar apprised the bench that the accountability court has suspended perpetual arrest warrants.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) told the IHC that the prosecution holds no objection to protective bail being granted.

"Our stance remains that if Nawaz wishes to appear before the court he may do so," said the prosecutor. "On whose directives are you stating this," inquired the court.

To this, the NAB lawyer replied that he was acting on the directives of the anti-graft watchdog's prosecutor-general. The court instructed him to submit this in writing.

The prosecutor stated that the court had in its written order stated that the appellant can revive his appeal once he returns to the country.

"The NAB's current stance is that we have no objections to Nawaz’s return to the country," added the prosecutor.

The court accepted Nawaz’s plea seeking protective bail and granted the same till Oct.24 while restricting the authorities from arresting the PML-N chief on his arrival to the country while seeking a written reply from NAB on its stance.

Accountability court Judge Muhammad Basheer announced the reserved verdict on the plea to suspend his perpetual arrest warrants, granting the ousted premier relief till Oct.24.

Nawaz’s counsel Qazi Misbah apprised the court that the PML-N chief will be returning to the country on Oct.21 and wishes to appear before the court. Hence, the perpetual arrest warrants should be cancelled, he argued.

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