Former Pakistani PM Does Not Appear in Court, Avoids Arrest

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan did not appear in court in Islamabad on Tuesday (7/3), to answer charges in a corruption case against him. His absence was seen by many as a legal maneuver to avoid his arrest.

The hearing was arranged by Judge Zafar Iqbal and Khan was asked to appear in person to respond to accusations of selling state gifts while in office. The same judge last week issued an arrest warrant for Khan, but only Khan’s successor, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, can order police to detain him.

The 70-year-old former cricket star and now leader of the opposition has been embroiled in a series of court cases, including terrorism charges filed by police. He has so far avoided arrest and claims the legal tangle was engineered by the government in an attempt to discredit him.

Late Tuesday (7/3), on Twitter, Khan lashed out at Sharif’s government and said it was behind a total of 76 legal cases so far filed against him. “This is what happens when a group of criminals is placed in a country by those who lack intelligence, morality and ethics,” he tweeted.

Khan was ousted in a vote of no confidence in Parliament last April but claimed, without providing evidence, that his removal was illegal and the result of a conspiracy between Sharif and Washington. Both the United States and Pakistani governments have denied the accusations.

The indictment in Tuesday’s case accuses Khan of illegally selling state gifts he received as prime minister and hiding the proceeds from those sales from the country’s election court. In October, a court disqualified him from public office for five years. Khan automatically lost his seat in Parliament due to the disqualification, and disputed it in court.

Mohsin Ranjha, a lawyer for the ruling Pakistan Muslim League party, criticized Khan for not appearing at the court and said the former prime minister was mocking the legal system. “Imran Khan will only appear before the court if it is according to his wishes,” said Ranja.

Fawad Chaudhry, a close aide to Khan and a senior leader in the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, claimed Khan was unable to travel to Islamabad for health reasons. Meanwhile, Khan’s legal team appealed to another court in Islamabad to quash the subpoena and the arrest warrant against the former prime minister.

Khan has been living in Lahore since November, after being shot in the leg by a gunman during a protest. Since then, he has only traveled to Islamabad once last week, to appear in court in another case.

His party has threatened to stage a nationwide protest if Khan is arrested, while the former prime minister claims there is a serious threat to his life. Since his sacking, he has campaigned for an early election, another demand rejected by Sharif, who said a vote would be held as scheduled later this year. [ab/uh]

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