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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 15 November 2018

Pakistan orders ex-PM corruption trial be heard in open court

Nawaz Sharif is appealing a 10-year sentence on corruption charges

Police officers hold back supporters of Pakistan's jailed ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as they gather outside the Adiala jail where he is being held, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, Thursday, July 19, 2018. AP
Police officers hold back supporters of Pakistan's jailed ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as they gather outside the Adiala jail where he is being held, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, Thursday, July 19, 2018. AP

Pakistan's jailed former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, will defend himself against more corruption charges in an open court rather than at a closed prison hearing, the government has decided.

Mr Sharif had been due to face further trial about his holdings in two companies while he remains imprisoned on a 10-year sentence for failing to disclose where he received the money to buy flats in London's Park Lane in the mid-1990s that are now worth ‎£8 million.

Officials had first ordered the trial to be held behind closed doors in the city of Rawalpindi's Adiala jail, where he and his daughter Maryam have been locked up since returning from London last week. Security concerns made the closed session necessary, they had argued, but the interim federal cabinet has now overturned the decision.

Mr Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) is facing a barrage of legal action as it tries to prepare for next week's general election.

While the party's figurehead remains imprisoned with his daughter, who is also his political heir, more than 15,000 party supporters and workers are reported to be facing charges for attending a rally to mark his return home to Lahore last week.

Mr Sharif and his daughter are seeking bail and an appeal to their convictions, but have been told any hearing will take place after the July 25 poll. The open hearings into holdings in Al-Azizia Steel Mills and Flagship Investment will take place on July 30.

Ali Zafar, the interim information minister, said that every citizen was entitled to an open trial under the constitution. The anti-corruption National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has the option to call for extra security measures if necessary.

In comments after a cabinet meeting, he said: “We have decided today that the accountability court trial will be held in a normal NAB court and in its own building.”

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The decision came as a row over Mr Sharif’s prison conditions while awaiting appeal continued. Pervaiz Rashid, a spokesman for the PML-N, visited the former leader in prison Thursday and said he was being held in “deplorable conditions”.

Mr Sharif's legal team also complained on Thursday that it had been denied access to him, with their appointment inside the jail cancelled, Dawn newspaper reported.

Punjab Information Minister Ahmad Waqas Riaz had said on Wednesday that the Sharif was being held in a special “better class” cell where inmates can buy comforts.

Mr Riaz gave a lengthy list of the comforts available to the former prime minister, saying as well as an iron bed, chair, table, fan, and newspapers, he had the option for a 21-inch TV and radio to be placed on his expenses.

The government also says he has been given a place to walk.

As polling day approaches, the PML-N, which had been seen as almost certain winners a few months ago, have lost ground to Imran Khan's PTI party. They are now neck-and-neck with the former cricket star.

Mr Khan has led an anti-corruption campaign against Mr Sharif and his family from the moment that documents in the 2016 Panama Papers leak linked them to offshore companies.

But the PML-N says Mr Khan is backed by the country's military and his electoral campaign is benefiting from a crackdown against other parties and the media.