Pakistani court issues arrest warrant for ex-PM Sharif: media

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani court issued an arrest warrant for ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after he failed to appear before the court over anti-corruption allegations, local media said on Thursday, but he can avoid arrest by paying bail.

In Pakistan, "bailable arrest warrants" often act as a warning to deter absences from court, but a judge can later issue non-bailable warrants that are more serious and could see Sharif arrested when he returns to Pakistan.

Sharif missed the hearing as he is undertaking a religious pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, Dawn and other English-language newspapers reported. Sharif had spent previous weeks tending to his wife in London, where she is receiving cancer treatment.

Sharif faces three separate corruption charges from the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), an anti-corruption body which has its own courts. Sharif's two sons and his daughter Maryam, who is viewed as Sharif's heir-apparent, are also facing NAB trials.

Sharif, 67, resigned in July after the Supreme Court disqualified him from holding office over an undeclared source of income, but the veteran leader maintains his grip on the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party.

The Sharifs have called the corruption proceedings against them a conspiracy, hinting at intervention by the powerful military, but opponents have hailed it as a rare example of the rich and powerful being held accountable. The army denies playing a role.

"We are going through a time in Pakistan where speaking up against injustice is called contempt of court and speaking up for the nation is called treason, but I still believe that we will be victorious," Maryam said outside the court, according to Dawn newspaper.

Sharif had a representative in court.

Sharif's disqualification stemmed 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 flats in London.

The NAB court charges against Sharif relate to the ownership of London apartments, as well as establishment of two large-scale factory businesses in Saudi Arabia. Sharifs deny any wrongdoing on all charges.