Updated at 9:23 a.m. ET
An anti-corruption court on Monday sentenced former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to seven years in prison in a case centered on his ownership of a steel mill. It is the latest blow against Sharif, a dogged survivor of Pakistan’s brutal political system.
Following the verdict of the National Accountability Court, Sharif’s supporters clashed with police in the Pakistani capital Islamabad and burned tires on a main road. Security forces used tear gas and batons to quell the protesters, local media reported.
The anti-corruption court found that Sharif, 68, could not prove his source of income for ownership of a steel mill in Saudi Arabia. He was arrested following the verdict, but it is unclear whether Sharif will serve out his full term. He is likely to appeal.
“We will protest against the verdict and overcome it,” said Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, a senior leader of Sharif’s party and a former prime minister, local media reported.
The case also revived accusations by protesters and Pakistani liberals that the country’s powerful military and judiciary are seeking to crush the political fortunes of the Sharif family. Those accusations are sensitive in Pakistan, where the military has long played an outsize role, including direct rule for about half of the country’s lifespan of 71 years.
Sharif, who is widely reviled by Pakistan’s military establishment, served three nonconsecutive terms as prime minister over the past three decades. His first term ended by military interference. His second term was ended by a military coup. He was subsequently jailed and then allowed to live in exile in Saudi Arabia.
His last term ended in July 2017, after the Supreme Court deposed him from office, saying he was neither truthful nor trustworthy. He was later banned from public office and this July, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison in a case involving his family’s ownership of upscale apartments in London. His daughter and political heir, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, was sentenced to seven years in prison. Interest in that case was revived after the Panama Papers leaks, which revealed his family’s use of offshore companies to buy that luxury real estate.
Both were released on bail pending appeal after serving just two months.
That prison sentence coincided with his party campaigning for re-election in Pakistan’s national elections, leading to accusations that it was timed to politically weaken Sharif and his daughter. The Sharifs’ sentences came alongside arbitrary detentions and restrictions on the media. There was also a crackdown on protests supporting Sharif and his daughter when they returned from the United Kingdom to Pakistan to serve those prison sentences – and to rally their supporters.
The elections were closely contested between Sharif’s party and another led by Imran Khan, a former cricket star. Khan ultimately won elections and formed a coalition government.
Another leading political figure, Asif Ali Zardari, is also expected to be sentenced in a money laundering case against him next month.
The editor of a local daily, Pakistan Today, suggested that the cases against Sharif and Zardari were part of an effort to quell opposition to the coalition government of Imran Khan.
“The glaring question that begs an answer is why only the political opposition is at the receiving end? None of the politicians in the ruling party coalition are facing the treatment being meted out to the opposition politicians,” wrote Arif Nizami, even as he acknowledged that the Sharifs and Zardari “can be rightly blamed for running their affairs in a completely non-transparent and arbitrary manner while in power.”
Nizami noted that the military was not directly involved in these anti-corruption cases, but he said that the army’s decades-long interference in civilian politics created doubt. “The commonly held perception is that the so-called hidden hand and the government are on the same page,” he wrote, referring to the military.