There was no "deal" between the governments of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia for the release of jailed former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his family members after a top court suspended their sentences in a corruption case, a senior Pakistani minister has asserted.
The Islamabad High Court Wednesday suspended the jail sentences of Sharif, his daughter Maryam and son-in-law Capt (retd) Muhammad Safdar in the Avenfield corruption case and they were released from the Adiala Prison in Rawalpindi.
"No country asked for his release. Nawaz Sharif is not so important for Saudi Arabia that they will talk about him," Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry said, rejecting the impression that the three-time former premier and his family members were released from jail under a "deal" between the Imran Khan-led government and Riyadh.
The Islamabad High Court's verdict, ordering the release of the trio coincided with Prime Minister Khan's visit to Saudi Arabia, giving rise to speculation that the Sharif family members' release was a result of the Saudis' request, the Dawn newspaper reported.
But the report recalled that Saudi Arabia was a guarantor in a deal between the Sharif family and then military dictator Gen. Pervez Musharraf in 2000 under which the Sharifs were released from jail and allowed to leave the country.
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy close relations and whenever a leader wins an election in Pakistan, the first visit is always to the Gulf nation.
Nawaz Sharif never came under discussion during Prime Minister Khan's visit to Saudi Arabia where he had meetings with the oil-rich kingdom's rulers, Chaudhry said.
"He is not that important to be discussed during that visit," he claimed.
"Those who say that Saudi Arabia would have talked [about Sharif during Prime Minister Khan's visit] actually don't know what kind of relationship the Saudis have with Nawaz Sharif," the minister said Thursday without elaborating.
"There will be no deal and no dheel (concession) with them (the Sharifs)," Chaudhry declared, adding that soon "they will be back to the place where they had been a few days back".
On July 6, an accountability court in Islamabad sentenced Sharif, Maryam and Safdar, to 10 years, seven years and one year in jail, respectively, in connection with the purchase of four luxury flats in London through corrupt practices.
"Nawaz Sharif will be in and out of jail. This thing will continue," he said, adding that the Sharifs had only been granted bail and the case was still pending against them.
"Those who were questioning the government for putting the names of the Sharifs on the Exit Control List (ECL) would have got the answer now.
"Had we not done so, they could have flown to London soon after their release, and where would we have looked for these princes then?" the minister said, justifying the decision of the Cabinet to place the names of the Sharifs on the ECL during its first meeting last month.
"We will not allow Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz to leave Pakistan and at the same time we will not allow (former finance minister) Ishaq Dar, and Hassan and Hussain (the two sons of Sharif) to stay out of Pakistan," he said.
Chaudhry said that for them it was not important that how much time the Sharifs would spend in jail, as for the government bringing back the looted money of the people of this country was more important.
Sharif, 68, resigned as Pakistan prime minister last year after the Supreme Court disqualified him from holding public office and ruled that corruption cases be filed against the beleaguered leader and his children over the Panama Papers scandal.
The Avenfield case was among the three corruption cases filed against the ex-premier by the National Accountability Bureau on the Supreme Court's orders in the Panama Papers case.