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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Former PM Sharif returns to Pakistan for court hearing

Ousted prime minister returns from London to face corruption charges

Supporters surround Nawaz Sharif's car as the former prime minister arrives for a court appearance in Islamabad on November 3, 2017. Faisal Mahmood / Reuters
Supporters surround Nawaz Sharif's car as the former prime minister arrives for a court appearance in Islamabad on November 3, 2017. Faisal Mahmood / Reuters

Former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif appeared in court on Friday after returning from overseas to face corruption allegations that led to his removal from office earlier this year.

In a brief hearing in Islamabad, Mr Sharif paid two surety bonds of five million rupees (Dh174,600) each before leaving under tight security, his lawyer Khawaja Haris said.

The court is to reconvene on November 7.

The former premier, who was forced out by the supreme court in July over a scandal kindled by the Panama Papers leak, had been facing an arrest warrant for failing to appear at hearings since early October.

He has spent most of the time since in London, where his wife is receiving treatment for cancer. He arrived in Islamabad on Thursday.

The claims against the Mr Sharif 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 and his supporters have denied the allegations and hinted at a political conspiracy driven by the powerful military.

"I am going to Pakistan despite [my wife's] chemotherapy to appear in a bogus case," he said before leaving London.

"Pakistan's system has contradictions ... all this must be changed, now is the time to change it."

Mr Sharif is the 15th premier in Pakistan's 70-year history to be ousted before completing a full term.

He said nothing to media outside the court in Islamabad, but his son-in-law Muhammad Safdar also hinted at a conspiracy.

"Till the time the courts are ... free from the fear of some other people, I can't expect any fair trial from this court," Mr Safdar said outside the court.

Earlier this week Mr Sharif summoned top officials from his ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party to London for a summit on the party's leadership as legal pressure grows.

Mr Sharif named loyalist Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as prime minister days after his ousting, and said his younger brother Shahbaz, currently the chief minister of Punjab province, would eventually succeed him.

Pakistani media reports have said the party plans to keep Mr Sharif as a central figure during campaigning for a general election due to be held sometime next year, despite the supreme court barring him from holding office.