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Pakistan rejects extradition flight from UK amid diplomatic row over Nawaz Sharif

December 15, 2020 07:08 PM

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Pakistan has refused to accept an extradition flight from the UK amid a deepening diplomatic row over its former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, reported British newspaper The Sun on Tuesday.

Britain forked out £300,000 chartering a plane to take around 40 deportees from London to Islamabad. But at the last minute, amid simmering tensions, Pakistan withdrew clearance for the flight to land. The snub meant the illegal immigrants were returned to detention centres around the UK.

The international dispute is over Pakistan’s failure to persuade the UK to repatriate Nawaz Sharif to serve his jail sentence for corruption.

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel was told she is “duty bound” to return the fallen ruler, who has been residing in London for a year after being temporarily released from prison in Pakistan and given permission to leave the country for an eight-week trip for medical treatment.

The Sun has seen videos and photos of Mr Sharif walking to and from his luxury mansion near Hyde Park in central London in recent months. He has given lengthy online talks from his UK bolt-hole attacking the current Pakistan government. Critics claim he has not spent a night in hospital during his stay in London.

   A source told The Sun: “Pakistan sent a warning that it need not accept illegal immigrants from London if Britain will not return its former PM who many believe is staying in the UK illegally.”

Mr Imran Khan’s adviser, Mirza Shahzad Akbar, wrote to Priti Patel on October 5 warning that Mr Sharif “has been responsible for pillaging the state and I trust that you will be supportive of our efforts to bring those responsible for corruption to account”.

After a spell of silence between the two countries, Pakistan then withdrew permission for the extradition flight to leave the UK on October 20. The move prompted a letter, seen by The Sun, from Priti Patel to Mr Akbar on November 20.

‘Proclaimed offender'
After pointing out that the UK government is subject to international law, she added: “Should the UK receive an extradition treaty request we would of course give it our full attention under the provision of UK law.”

The stand-off came after the Panama Papers revealed jaw-dropping hidden assets belonging to Mr Sharif’s family. He resigned as PM in 2017 and the following year a Pakistan court sentenced him to seven years’ imprisonment for corruption. He has claimed that this and other corruption cases against him are politically motivated.

In November 2019 he flew to London after the Pakistan authorities granted him leave to travel abroad for eight weeks to seek treatment for various conditions. He sought an extension of his temporary release but the Pakistani authorities refused on the grounds that he had offered inadequate medical evidence - and ordered Mr Sharif to return home. But Mr Sharif has remained in London on a ‘visit visa’ from where he has stepped up broadcast attacks on Mr Khan’s government.

According to records submitted to the Pakistan authorities, he has given as his London address the very dwelling on London’s opulent Park Lane that led to his downfall. His family’s ownership of the property was exposed by the leak of secret files from the Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca. Islamabad High Court had declared Nawaz Sharif as a 'proclaimed offender' due to his absence from court hearings against him.

On September 15 it issued non-bailable arrest warrants against him. During the dispute, Pakistan has cited Britain’s own immigration laws of 1974 under which any person sentenced to imprisonment of more than four years had to be deported to the country of his/her origin.

Critics say Nawaz Sharif is “illegally staying in London and provoking civil unrest in Pakistan”. They add his stay is “strengthening the impression of London as being a safe haven of laundered money accumulated through corruption and a sanctuary of corrupt politicians hailing from across the globe".

Daniel Bruce, Chief Executive of Transparency International UK, told The Sun: “Foreign politicians with convictions relating to corruption should not enjoy impunity in Britain. 

“Nor should their unexplained wealth, stashed in luxury London properties, fall out of the reach of law enforcement. 

“Progress towards a formal extradition process is welcome in order to uphold the rule of law in partnership with other countries. 

“Action should also be taken to seize and return any illicit assets held here in Britain in order to deliver justice for the victims of corruption.”

Publicly Pakistan has confirmed that the extradition flight from the UK was not given clearance to land but denied it was linked to the row over Nawaz Sharif’s repatriation. But privately officials accepted to The Sun that the two issues are related.

The deportation flight is expected to finally take off from London to Pakistan over the next few days. Last night Home Office sources said the government does not confirm if extradition requests have been made or received until an arrest has been made in connection to it.

Last night Hussain Nawaz, son of the former Pakistan PM, hit back at his critics. He told The Sun: "Mr. Sharif’s second regime was ended by military rule and he was exiled albeit after getting two life sentences on the count of hijacking an aircraft from the PM’s office. 

"He later returned, cleared his cases and got elected the Prime Minister for a third time. 

"He is now under treatment in the UK with ill-health yet facing repeated onslaughts of the Pakistani Establishment."

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