Imran Khan and Wife Sentenced to 14 Years in Prison on Graft Charges in Pakistan

In a significant blow to former Prime Minister Imran Khan, a Pakistani anti-graft court has handed down a 14-year jail sentence to Khan and his wife, Bushra Khan, for their alleged involvement in the illegal sale of state gifts. This development, which marks the third conviction against the ex-cricket star in recent months, comes just over a week before the country’s national election. The court’s decision also includes a 10-year disqualification from holding public office, a substantial consequence that could impact Khan’s political future. The ruling was announced by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Khan’s political party.

Following the verdict, Bushra Khan, commonly known as Bushra Bibi, voluntarily surrendered herself for arrest. The charges against the former Prime Minister and his wife revolve around the purported unauthorized sale of state gifts, adding a layer of controversy to an already contentious political landscape in Pakistan. The legal proceedings and their outcomes are expected to have far-reaching implications on the upcoming election and may influence the political dynamics in the country.

The 14-year prison term handed to Imran Khan is more severe than the 10-year sentence he received on Tuesday for allegedly disclosing state secrets. This verdict arrives amidst the backdrop of Pakistan gearing up for an election scheduled on Feb. 8. It remains uncertain whether the two sentences for Khan will be served concurrently.

Expressing disappointment, Khan’s media team characterized it as another unfortunate day in the history of the judicial system, emphasizing the perceived dismantling of justice. They reiterated Khan’s denial of the charges and criticized the legal process, highlighting the absence of cross-questioning, the conclusion of final arguments, and the seemingly predetermined nature of the decision. The media team stated their intention to challenge what they deemed a ridiculous decision.

Imran Khan and his wife faced charges of unlawfully selling gifts valued at over 140 million rupees ($501,000), which were received during his premiership from 2018 to 2022. The items, sourced from a state treasury locally referred to as the “Toshakhana,” were allegedly sold by Khan’s aides in Dubai, as asserted by government officials. A list of these gifts, including perfumes, diamond jewelry, dinner sets, and seven watches – six of them being Rolexes, with the priciest being a “Master Graff limited edition” valued at 85 million rupees ($304,000) – was shared by a former information minister. Notably, Khan had previously received a three-year prison sentence in August on the same charge from a different court, but the sentence had been suspended pending appeal.

Judgment is Karma, The Opponents Said

The verdict delivered on Wednesday follows an investigation conducted by Pakistan’s foremost anti-graft body, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). According to PTI’s acting chairman and lawyer, Gohar Ali Khan, Bushra’s conviction is perceived as an attempt to exert additional pressure on Imran Khan. In a television interview, Gohar Ali Khan stated, “Bushra Bibi has no link to this case.”

While Khan has previously been found guilty in two other cases, this marks the first sentencing for his wife. The couple tied the knot in 2018, just months before Khan assumed the premiership for the first time, constituting his third marriage after two divorces.

A member of the prosecution team, speaking anonymously to Reuters, confirmed the verdict, with a detailed judgment expected soon. Reports from local broadcaster Geo News suggest that the verdict also entails a substantial fine.

Khan’s earlier conviction on the charge of selling state gifts led to a five-year ban from holding public office, barring the 71-year-old from participating in the Feb. 8 election. However, Wednesday’s verdict extends his ineligibility to hold office until the age of 81.

Political opponents, including the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) led by three-time former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) founded by the late former premier Benazir Bhutto, applauded the ruling. Bilawal-Bhutto Zardari, the son of Benazir Bhutto and the current leader of PPP, referred to Khan’s convictions as “karma” during a public rally on Wednesday.

Critics, including Khan’s political rivals and certain rights activists, have accused him of leveraging the anti-graft body during his tenure to imprison opponents and silence critical journalists, allegations vehemently denied by his PTI party. Maryam Nawaz, Sharif’s daughter and a key political figure, characterized the verdict as nothing but “karma.” 

Crackdown on Khan’s Family and His Party

In the aftermath of the verdict against Imran Khan and his wife, police presence was heightened outside the party’s offices in Islamabad and Lahore.

Imran Khan has been entangled in numerous legal battles since his removal from power through a parliamentary vote of no-confidence in 2022. He contends that his ouster was orchestrated with the support of the powerful military, with whom he had a falling out during his tenure.

Khan and his party assert that they have faced a military-backed crackdown since his removal, involving the arrest of hundreds of supporters, party members, and key aides. The military, traditionally influential in Pakistan’s politics, denies these allegations.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the anti-graft agency handling Khan’s case, has, at different times, investigated, tried, and incarcerated all prime ministers who have served since 2008, including Khan’s primary political rival Nawaz Sharif, whose party is viewed as the frontrunner in the upcoming election.

In a concerning development ahead of the polls, violence has escalated. On Wednesday, a candidate for the national assembly, claiming allegiance to Khan’s party, was fatally shot in a tribal district along the Afghan border, as reported by the police.

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