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Islamabad correspondent Owen Bennett-Jones
"Nawaz Sharif has dismissed the trial as a farce"
 real 28k

Friday, 2 June, 2000, 10:19 GMT 11:19 UK
Sharif charged with corruption
Sharif being driven to court
Security around the deposed premier is tight
Pakistan's ousted Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, has been formally charged with corruption.

Mr Sharif was accused of tax evasion and of fraudulently importing a helicopter and faces 14 years in prison if found guilty.

The deposed premier has already been given a life sentence after being convicted of terrorism and hijacking in a separate trial.

A court in Karachi is hearing a prosecution appeal that the sentence be increased to a death penalty.

Graft case

A Pakistani court sitting in a 16th century fort near the capital, Islamabad, charged Mr Sharif with "concealment of assets and evasion of taxes".

The case relates to the purchase of a Russian-built MI-6 helicopter, worth $1.3m.

This is a shame in the name of accountability

Nawaz Sharif
Pakistan's National Accountability Bureau (NAB) says that Mr Sharif did not disclose the purchase in his income tax returns.

Defence lawyers boycotted the proceedings saying that they were given very little time to prepare their case.

Mr Sharif said the charges had been "cooked up" and refused to say whether he was guilty or not.

"The army is staging a drama through the NAB. This is a shame in the name of accountability," reports quoted Mr Sharif as saying in court.

"My fate has already been decided. The army is firing the gun by keeping it on your shoulder," he told the judge.

Officials said the trial was held at the historic Attock Fort for reasons of security.

Death appeal

In a separate development, the Sindh High Court has agreed to hear a prosecution appeal seeking the death penalty for Mr Sharif.

It said hearings would begin on 12 June.

The military government, which overthrew Mr Sharif last October, submitted the appeal after the former premier was sentenced to life imprisonment last month.

At the same time, the court has agreed to hear an appeal against the acquittal of Mr Sharif's six co-defendents, including his brother, Shahbaz.

The charges relate to events on the day of the coup against Mr Sharif, when a commercial flight carrying the then army chief, General Pervez Musharraf, was denied permission to land at Karachi.

The aircraft managed to land safely after the army secured the airport.

Soon after, General Musharraf said he was taking over from Mr Sharif as the country's military ruler.

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See also:

25 May 00 | South Asia
Blow for Sharif lawyers
09 May 00 | South Asia
Sharif appeal process begins
10 Apr 00 | South Asia
Musharraf says Sharif trial 'fair'
02 May 00 | South Asia
Court suspends Sharif fine
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