Nawaz Sharif acquitted of wrongdoing in acquiring chopper


Rawalpindi : A division bench of Lahore High Court Friday acquitted former prime minister Nawaz Sharif of wrongdoing in acquiring a helicopter in the mid-1990s, saying he had taken it on rent for an election campaign.

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A two-member bench of judges Tariq Shamim and Saeed Ijaz declared as null and void an accountability court’s verdict holding Sharif guilty of acquiring the Russian-made Mi-8 helicopter.

The court also condoned Sharif’s delay in filing his appeal.

Sharif, who heads the main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) was sentenced to 14 years of imprisonment, disqualified from contesting elections for 21 years and fined Rs.20 million by a National Accountability Bureau (NAB) court.

Concluding his arguments Tuesday, Sharif’s lawyer Khawaja Haris told the court that his client didn’t own the helicopter and that it had been taken on rent for an election campaign. He said Sheikh Abdul Rehman Al-Sani of Qatar was the helicopter’s real owner.

Haris said the NAB had neither proved the helicopter’s purchase by Sharif nor did it make the real owner a witness in the case.

After reading them out, Haris said the statements of the witness didn’t prove Sharif guilty in the case.

This was one of the many cases filed against Sharif after then Pakistani Army chief Gen. Pervez Musharraf overthrew him Oct 12, 1999 in a bloodless military coup.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court had reserved its verdict on a case in which Sharif is accused of “hijacking” Musharraf’s aircraft by preventing it from landing at Karachi. The army had then taken over the airport, the plane landed with barely a few minutes of fuel left and Musharraf staged his coup.

After being jailed for year, Sharif, his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif and their families were sent into exile for 10 years in Saudi Arabia.

Sharif dramatically returned in Sept 2007, but was bundled back from the airport before he once again returned.

After their one-two finish in the January 2008 general elections, the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the PML-N had formed a coalition but differences soon emerged after PPP co-chair and now Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari reneged on the governance agenda the two parties had agreed on before the polls.

The PML-N then walked out of the coalition and had rebuffed moves to return even though all the major governance issues have been resolved.