A Pakistani anti-graft tribunal on Friday announced a much-awaited ruling in a corruption case against former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, sentencing him to 10 years in prison over purchases of luxury apartments in London.
Sharif, who is in London with his ailing wife, was not in the courtroom for the verdict and was sentenced in absentia. It's unlikely that Pakistan would seek his extradition and the former premier has repeatedly said he would eventually return home for other trials that he faces.
It was the latest blow to Sharif, just weeks ahead of the country's parliament elections later this month, and also the first verdict against the embattled former premier who has faced a string of trials since he was ousted from office by the Supreme Court last year for concealing assets abroad.
In Friday's ruling, the court also sentenced Sharif's daughter, Maryam Nawaz, to seven years in a case stemming from documents leaked from a Panama law firm while her husband, Mohammad Safdar, got a year's sentence for giving false information to investigators.
Judge Mohammad Bashir concluded in his written statement that Sharif and his family had failed to disclose the source of funds they used to purchases luxurious London properties and did not report the purchases to tax authorities.
Bashir also fined Sharif a sum of 8 million British pounds, about $10.6 million while his daughter was fined 2 million British pounds, about $2.6 million. The judge also ordered the Sharif family's London properties confiscated.
Sharif's party, the Pakistan Muslim League, rejected the ruling as a grave injustice to the popular former leader.
"We will use all legal and constitutional options against today's court rulings," said Shahbaz Sharif, the party chief, appealing on supporters to exercise restraint and vote for their candidates in the July 25 vote.
Sharif's political opponents hailed the verdict, saying it was the beginning of real "accountability of thieves."
"We are very happy today as a big thief has been punished by judiciary," said Imran Khan, a popular former lawmaker whose Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf party is also running for office. Khan is also hoping to become the country's next prime minister.
Khan told an election rally in the country's northwest that Sharif might have escaped punishment if he had not waged a legal battle against him years ago.
"Now this is your duty to reject corrupt politicians in the elections," he said.