Pakistan court issues arrest warrant for ex-PM Sharif: lawyer

 26 Oct 2017 - 10:40

Pakistan court issues arrest warrant for ex-PM Sharif: lawyer
This file photo taken on September 26, 2017 shows Pakistani ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif (C) as he leaves after a press conference on his appearance in front of an accountability court to face corruption charges, in Islamabad./ AFP / AAMIR QURESHI

AFP

Islamabad, A Pakistani court on Thursday issued arrest warrants for ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif in two cases of corruption spiralling from the Panama Papers leak, his lawyers said.

Sharif is currently in London with his wife Kalsum as she undergoes cancer treatment, and has not returned to Pakistan since he was indicted in the corruption allegations earlier this month, despite reports he would do so.

"The accountability court issued bailable warrants for the former prime minister in two cases of alleged corruption today and adjourned (the) hearing until November 3," one of his defence lawyers, Zafir Khan told AFP.

In late July the Supreme Court sacked Sharif following an investigation into corruption allegations against his family, making him the 15th premier in Pakistan's 70-year history to be ousted before completing a full term.

The claims against the prime minister stemmed from the Panama Papers leak last year, which sparked a media frenzy over the luxurious lifestyles and high-end London property portfolio owned by his family.

Sharif's eponymous ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has doggedly stuck behind their leader, but as the legal pressure builds cracks are beginning to appear in their unity ahead of general elections due to be held sometime next year.

Federal Minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination Riaz Pirzada became the most high profile voice of dissent to speak out publicly last week when he called for Sharif's younger brother, Punjab provincial chief minister Shahbaz Sharif, to take over the party leadership.

"We don't object to Nawaz's leadership but we are concerned how the party will win the next elections," Pirzada said as he repeated his call this week to Pakistan's Geo News.

The Supreme Court's ruling also banned Nawaz Sharif from political office. In the days after his ouster he swiftly named a replacement, current prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, and designated Shahbaz his eventual successor.

However there has been no move towards securing a federal seat for the provincial minister, which would then open up elections for the leadership of Punjab, the Sharif dynasty's powerbase.

Instead Sharif fielded his cancer-stricken wife Kalsum in a by-election to fill his old seat in Lahore in September.

She won the vote, seen as a key test of the PML-N's popularity after Sharif's ousting and ahead of the general election, but the party's soul-searching continues as it seeks a way forward.

"There is a very visible split in the party, which has clearly been divided into two groups" behind each brother, political analyst Rasul Bukhsh Raees told AFP.

Nawaz Sharif has faced -- and come back from -- similar challenges in the past.

In 1993 he was sacked from his first term as premier for corruption, while in 1999 he was sentenced to life in prison after his second term in office ended with a military putsch.

Following the coup he was allowed to go into exile in Saudi Arabia, returning in 2007 before becoming prime minister for a third time in 2013.