Dismissal of Nawaz Sharif’s Judge Could Set the ex PM Free

The judge who sent Nawaz Sharif behind bars for graft has been dismissed on Friday for violating the code of conduct, which paves the way for the former prime minister to be acquitted and for Pakistan’s political rift to deepen at a time the country is struggling with the coronavirus pandemic.

Nawaz Sharif copyFormer Pakistan's Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif. (Photo: Prerna goyal (CC BY-SA 4.0))The Lahore High Court’s top disciplinary committee dismissed Arshad Malik over a controversial video that shed doubt about his judicial impartiality in the Sharif case, an official at the court told OCCRP under the condition of anonymity.

The video was presented to the public last year by Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz and showed Malik admitting that he was blackmailed into convicting Sharif of corruption.

“Malik was dismissed for violating the code of conduct which does not allow judges to meet privately with people related to cases pending before them and discuss cases pending in the court,” the official said.

Malik found in December 2018 Sharif guilty of corruption in the so-called Al-Azizia steel mills case which was launched against the former prime minister whom the Supreme Court ousted based on revelations from the Panama Papers leak.

Sharif was sentenced to seven years in prison but appealed the ruling.

The dismissal of the judge could annul Sharif’s conviction and prompt a retrial, Osama Malik, a senior attorney based in Islamabad, told OCCRP.

“This development will be warmly welcomed by Sharif and his supporters, but it also risks exacerbating a nasty, ongoing spat between (current PM) Imran Khan and the PML-N that dates back to when Khan was in the opposition,” Micheal Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, told OCCRP.

The PML-N is the Pakistani Muslim League (Nawaz), a centre-right conservative party founded by Sharif in 1993.

“We could see a new stage in an ugly political battle that Pakistan can scarcely afford, and especially at a moment when the coronavirus pandemic and a worsening economic crisis require the political class to show a united front to tackle such immense challenges. At a moment when Pakistan needs to be politically united, it is deeply, deeply divided,” he said.

Sharif is currently in London for his treatment after the court granted him bail on medical grounds.

“Partial justice is not real justice. True and complete justice requires that just as the Judge has been dismissed, his tainted decision must also be quashed,” Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz tweeted after the judge’s dismissal on Friday.

Sharif’s younger brother and the president of his party, Shehbaz Sharif, said that the dismissal “establishes that Nawaz Sharif was unjustly sentenced.”

Nawaz Sharif, who served three times as prime minister, denied all accusations against him, labeling them as politically motivated. He blames the country's powerful military and courts of working jointly to end his political career.