Pakistan court overturns ex-PM Nawaz Sharif’s last graft conviction

By Asif Shahzad

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – A Pakistan court on Tuesday overturned a conviction for graft of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his lawyer said, removing one of the last major hurdles for him to qualify to contest national elections in February.

His Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party says he is a candidate to become prime minister for a fourth term. The veteran politician arrived back home in October from four years of self-imposed exile in London.

Sharif now just needs the removal of a life ban on holding any public office to qualify to stand in the elections, scheduled for Feb. 8, 2024.

On Tuesday, the Islamabad High Court overturned a 2018 conviction on charges of not being able to prove sources of income for setting up a steel mill in Saudi Arabia, his lawyer Amjad Pervaiz said. Sharif had been given a seven-year prison sentence for this.

His party spokesperson, Marriyum Aurangzeb, hailed the ruling, saying it was a made-up case that was bound to be thrown out.

Sharif has already been acquitted of a separate 2018 conviction on corruption charges in a case linked to his family’s purchase of upscale London flats, for which he had been sentenced to 10 years in jail.

He had been out on bail pending appeals against the graft convictions, and had always denied any wrongdoing, saying the charges were politically motivated.

Analysts have said that Sharif’s relationship with the country’s powerful military, which mostly decides who will rule the nation of 241 million people, is now in a cordial phase that could boost him against his rivals.

Sharif has alleged that the military backed his 2017 ouster to bring Imran Khan to power in elections the following year. Khan himself is now jailed on corruption charges he denies.

Sharif and Khan’s political parties are seen as the main contenders in the upcoming election.

The military and Khan fell out in 2022, and over the last few months they have been involved in a bruising showdown, which has afforded Sharif some political space.

The military denies that it interferes in politics.

(Reporting by Asif Shahzad; Editing by Frances Kerry)