In what is a rare instance of a powerful Pakistani politician being detained, Muhammad Safdar – a lawmaker married to Sharif‘s daughter and heir-apparent, Maryam – was arrested as he returned from London after failing to appear at recent National Accountability Bureau (NAB) court hearings relating to corruption allegations stemming from a probe into the Sharif family’s wealth.
Nawaz was disqualified by the Supreme Court in July for not declaring a source of income that he disputes receiving. Pakistan’s top court also ordered a wide-ranging NAB investigation and trial into Sharif family members.
The Supreme Court specified that the trial should be concluded within six months by the NAB, which has in the past been derided as toothless due to the low number of convictions of rich and powerful politicians.
Safdar, who was arrested soon after midnight, was expected to be released after an NAB court appearance, along with Maryam, this morning.
Television footage showed some supporters from the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) trying to stop the car in which Safdar was being driven from leaving the airport, including some who lay down in front of it. A senior PML-N official urged them to give way.
Khawaja Saad Rafique, a minister in the PML-N Cabinet, said on Twitter that no resistance was made to Safdar’s arrest, even though the party had “serious reservations” about the judicial process.
Sharif‘s disqualification stems from the Panama Papers leaks in 2016 that appeared to show that his daughter and two sons owned offshore holding companies registered in the British Virgin Islands and used them to buy properties in London.
The Supreme Court initially declined to dismiss Nawaz but ordered an investigation into his family’s wealth. After the probe it disqualified him and ordered an NAB investigation and trial into the family.
Some senior PML-N officials, including Maryam, have hinted that elements of Pakistan’s powerful military had a hidden hand in the Supreme Court disqualification that forced Nawaz to resign. The army has denied playing a role.
The case against the Sharifs has gripped Pakistan, with analysts expecting the negative news flow from the hearings to hurt PML-N in the run-up to the next general elections, likely to be held in mid-2018.