A special anti-narcotics court on Saturday sentenced Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Hanif Abbasi to life in ephedrine quota case, just four days before the general election in the country.
The PML-N leader was taken into custody from the courtroom soon after the judge announced the verdict.
Abbasi, who is contesting the upcoming election from NA-60 Rawalpindi, faced charges of misusing 500kg of the controlled chemical ephedrine, which he obtained for his company, Gray Pharmaceutical, in 2010.
The court, in its verdict announced after 6 years, ruled that nearly 363kg of ephedrine was rightly used, adding that Abbasi failed to provide evidence of the use of remaining quantity of the drug.
The court acquitted seven other accused in the case, giving them the benefit of doubt.
A former MNA from Rawalpindi, Abbasi was expected to have a tough electoral contest on July 25 with Sheikh Rasheed — who is allied with the PML-N's arch-rival, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf.
The security around the special court had already been put on high-alert, with an armoured personnel carrier (APC) also present on the back entrance.
Personnel of the Anti-Narcotics Force and police had closed the way leading out of the court premises.
Printing of new ballot papers
Meanwhile, sources within the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) told that the PML-N could file a petition for the allotment of 'lion' symbol to any independent candidate.
They said the ECP would ponder over after the submission of the petition, adding that the petitioner would have to bear expenses of printing of new ballot papers in the constituency.
Plea to delay trial
A day earlier, Judge Mohammad Akram Khan had rejected Abbasi's plea to delay the trial's deadline, noting that he had to follow orders of the Lahore High Court (LHC).
The judge also remarked that he will continue hearing arguments into the night if it takes that long.
The court reserved its judgment on Saturday as Abbasi's counsel concluded his arguments during today's hearing.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court had dismissed Abbasi’s petition against the LHC order, directing to conclude the ephedrine quota case against him by July 21.
On July 11, the LHC Rawalpindi Bench, deciding on a plea filed by Shahid Orakzai, had ordered that the trial be conducted daily from July 16 onwards and concluded on July 21.
PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif criticised the timing of the verdict saying that it "clearly shows a discriminatory attitude towards [the] PML-N."
Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, in his reaction to the verdict, said that they could not see the justice being dispensed in the case. The ex-premier said that the verdict had made the election "controversial."
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chairman Imran Khan, in his response, said that he had just received the news that one more PML-N member was going to Adiala prison.
Awami Muslim League (AML) head Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed, who is also contesting from NA-60 Rawalpindi, remarked that the case had reached to its logical end.
Rasheed said that Abbasi had been selling drugs and was caught in the act.
The Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) had registered the case against Abbasi and his accomplices in June 2012 under various sections of the Control of Narcotics Substances (CNS) Act.
ANF officials claimed the substance was sold by Abbasi to narcotics smugglers, who used it to make 'party drugs.'
The trial had been ongoing in a CNS Court in Rawalpindi.
The court had indicted Abbasi and the other accused, including his brother, in 2014.