Federal government continues its efforts for repatriation of Nawaz Sharif from UK
The government of Pakistan has requested the government of United Kingdom for the third time to repatriate former premier Nawaz Sharif to serve out his sentence in a Pakistani prison. The previous letters were written by the Foreign Ministry on November 22, 2019, and March 2, 2020, and handed over to the UK authorities using diplomatic channels. Advisor to Prime Minister on Accountability and Interior Mirza Shahzad Akbar wrote the last letter on October 5, to Priti Patel, the UK home secretary. This time the letter was handed over personally to the British High Commission in Islamabad.
The three-page letter seen by The News on Sunday reads that Priti Patel, Secretary of State for the Home Department is “duty bound” to deport Nawaz Sharif. “The GOP (government of Pakistan) urges you to exclude Mr Sharif (the convict) and return him to Pakistan in order that he can serve his sentence and stand trial for other pending corruption references. Mr Sharif (the convict) 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.”
Nawaz Sharif was allowed to leave for London on November 19, 2019 after the Lahore High Court granted him a four-week permission to go abroad for treatment. He submitted an undertaking to the court to return to Pakistan, citing his record of facing the law and justice, within four weeks or as soon as he was declared healthy and fit to travel by the doctors. The Punjab government also decided on February 25, to not extend further the bail on medical grounds and sent its recommendations to the federal government for making the final call on the matter. “the Punjab cabinet has decided that there is no legal, moral or medical basis for further allowing the extension in bail without any substantial evidence,” Muhammad Basharat Raja, the Punjab law minister, told a press conference on the same day.
The federal government on March 2, 2020, a week after Punjab government’s decision wrote a letter to authorities in UK explaining the situation and requesting that Nawaz Sharif be sent back. “Nawaz Sharif was allowed to travel to UK as an interim agreement based on court orders and duration of his stay could only be extended, according to court orders, based on medical reports. He failed to provide sufficient proof to support extension in his stay in London,” says a senior government official with knowledge of the matter. “We have put a lot of pressure on government of UK to deport Nawaz Sharif as we are on strong legal grounds,” he says.
Pakistan has yet to sign an extradition treaty with the UK but government officials involved in the process still think they have strong legal grounds to pressure the government of UK to deport Nawaz Sharif. Even prime minister Imran Khan said last week during a TV talk-show that he could visit the UK to turn up the pressure on PM Boris Johnson to deport Nawaz Sharif. “We have not been asking UK Home Department to extradite Nawaz Sharif but… to deport him. This changes the legal grounds altogether and has to do nothing with whether an extradition treaty is signed or not. In the past, the UK Home Office has curtailed and refused entry to individuals, who have only been ‘suspected’ of wrongdoing. In contrast, Nawaz Sharif is a convict and remains in the UK despite his criminal convictions and breach of court orders,” the official says.
The government of Pakistan has also shared a list of at least 21 individuals with UK home department belonging to different countries who were denied entry to UK on various accounts (ranging from hate speech to corruption). In 2005, the government of UK denied entry to Chris Murungaru, then transport minister of Kenya, on account of corruption.
Nawaz Sharif was allowed to leave for London on November 19, 2019 after the Lahore High Court granted him a four-week permission to go abroad for treatment. He submitted an undertaking to the court to return to Pakistan, citing his record of facing the law and justice, within four weeks or as soon as he was declared healthy and fit to travel.
The government of Pakistan has been hoping that it would be easy to convince an “anti-immigration” Conservative government in London to deport Nawaz Sharif. In November 2014, Theresa May had said that she had excluded “hundreds” of people from the UK since becoming home secretary. In particular, she highlighted having excluded 61 people on national security grounds and 72 people on ‘non-conducive to the public good’ grounds. She said that she had also excluded 84 ‘hate preachers’.
The current home secretary, Priti Patel, according to government official dealing with the matter, is even more particular on the issue of immigration. The letter also says that Nawaz Sharif’s presence in the UK is not conducive to public good. “UK’s immigration rules set out the law and basis upon which an individual is to be allowed to remain in the UK. Given the nature of his convictions, the blatant disregard Mr Sharif (the convict) shows for the Pakistani judicial system and his continuing disregard for orders of the Courts, his presence in the UK cannot be conducive to the public good as per your own immigration rules and laws.”
The home secretary has extensive powers to exclude a convict ranging from Section 3(5) of the Immigration Act 1971 to the various provisions of the immigration rules as well as her inherent powers and discretion. “This is a very wide-ranging power which could be used against Nawaz Sharif who has been convicted of corruption offences. UK Home Department has barred entry of several people in the past on various reasons,” says the government official speaking on the condition of anonymity. “I am hopeful. It is important to put continuous pressure of UK Home Office.”
Experts on UK’s law of immigration say much is likely to depend on the political resolve of the home secretary. “There is no requirement in law for Nawaz Sharif to have a conviction in the UK or anywhere else in order to face deportation or administrative removal action. Under Section 3(5) of the Immigration Act 1971 the home secretary can deport anyone if she deems their deportation to be conducive to the public good,” says Mohammed Amjad, a leading immigration law expert based at London with over 24 years of experience of dealing with complex immigration / deportation cases and a director of the Legal Rights Partnership. “The associated Home Office guidance is particularly pertinent. It states that, ‘as corruption undermines legitimate democracies, where a person has been involved or complicit in corruption, you must refuse them under character, conduct and associations grounds.’” He says that much is likely to depend on the political resolve of the home secretary and this case could become an interesting test case for the UK’s own stated commitments to rooting out corruption.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has said on the record that allowing Nawaz Sharif to leave the country on medical grounds was a “mistake” and his government “regretted” the decision. He has said he is determined to bring him back to Pakistan. Some political analysts warn that a Nawaz Sharif in Pakistan can be more dangerous for the government than a Nawaz Sharif in London. “The government might be euphoric initially if it succeeds in bringing him back, but what next?,” says Sohail Warraich, a leading political commentator and columnist. “It will not be easy to keep him in jail in view of his health issues. Is the government ready to bear the political cost if something happens to him? Once he feels that he is likely to be deported he might decide to return on his own. In that case, he would get a hero’s welcome and the government will have no answer to his political narrative,” he says.
Ishaq Dar, a senior PML-N leader who has been living in London in self-exile, said in an interview on October 28 that PM Imran Khan and his government would never succeed in their efforts. “Nawaz Sharif will not go to Pakistan until his health fully recovers,” he said.
The writer is Islamabad based journalist, researcher and media trainer. A former Daniel Pearl/AFPP fellow, he shared in The LA Times’ 2016 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news. He tweets @AounSahi