A senior judge was sacked yesterday following a scandal over blackmail claims relating to the jailing of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif on corruption charges, the law ministry said.
The removal of accountability court judge Arshad Malik prompted immediate calls by Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) party for the release of the 69-year-old former premier, who is serving a seven-year jail sentence.
“The decision against Nawaz Sharif should be dismissed and he should be released immediately,” party spokeswoman Marriyum Aurangzeb said, adding that Sharif’s conviction should be considered “void”.
Sharif was convicted and jailed last year after failing to prove the source of income that had led to his ownership of a steel mill in Saudi Arabia.
Under Pakistani law, this is taken to prove corruption.
The PML-N has disputed the conviction and last week party leaders presented a video apparently showing Malik saying that he had been pressured into ruling in favour of conviction by individuals with compromising footage against him.
Malik later issued a statement denying he had been blackmailed to convict Sharif, and saying that the video had been manipulated.
He also declared in an affidavit that he had been offered bribes followed by blackmail threats by figures close to Sharif to rule in favour of the former premier.
After days of growing pressure, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) asked the law ministry to remove him from his position.
“Judge Arshad Malik was asked to stop working on the basis of the alleged video and the press release,” Law Minister Farogh Naseem told a news conference.
Earlier in the day, Malik had written a letter to the high court, refuting PML-N vice-president Maryam Nawaz’s allegations and the video purportedly showing him admitting to lack of evidence against Sharif.
In an affidavit submitted to the IHC, Malik denied the contents of the video and termed them as edited, fabricated, and aimed to defame him, sources said.
According to an IHC spokesperson, acting IHC Chief Justice Amir Farooq received Malik’s letter and then decided to request the law ministry to remove him from the post.
The spokesperson further said, on the order of Chief Justice Farooq, Malik’s affidavit and letter has been made part of Sharif’s acquittal plea.
Sources said that the IHC chief justice had summoned Malik several times and interrogated him regarding the controversy.
They said that Chief Justice Farooq found Malik’s answers unsatisfactory.
Malik is currently hearing the fake accounts case against former president Asif Ali Zardari, the rental power case against former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, and references against former prime minister Shaukat Aziz.
He is also hearing several National Accountability Bureau (NAB) references.
The scandal adds to an already heated political climate in Pakistan where Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government, which came to power last year vowing to root out corruption, has been facing increasing economic difficulties.
Earlier this month it agreed to a $6bn bailout deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which has demanded a tough package of austerity measures.
As the problems have mounted, opposition parties have stepped up attacks, accusing the government and its allies in the powerful military establishment of crushing dissent and orchestrating Sharif’s removal from power and conviction.
Last week, the PML-N had released a video clip allegedly showing Malik admitting that no evidence of embezzlement of funds in Pakistan or in Saudi Arabia was found against Sharif.
Maryam – the daughter of ex-prime minister Sharif – said that Malik had contacted Nasir Butt, a PML-N worker, and told him that he was feeling guilty and having nightmares ever since he announced the verdict that led to Sharif’s imprisonment.
Malik was “blackmailed” into handing down the sentence against Sharif after some people threatened that they would release a private video of his, she alleged.
Yesterday, following the IHC’s decision to remove Malik, Maryam called for the verdict against her father to be expunged.
In a series of tweets, she said that the matter was not about the removal of a judge but about suspending the verdict that the judge had issued.
Maryam wrote: “The matter is about removing the verdict, which this judge had given under pressure, from the court record.”
While calling for Sharif’s immediate release, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif said that the verdict against his brother had become void.
The PML-N president said that following the judge’s removal, there was no justification for keeping Sharif in jail: “Keeping Nawaz Sharif in jail for even a minute is now illegal.”
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