Kimberly P. Yow

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Pakistan’s Imran Khan and his wife plead not guilty in another graft case, alleging political conspiracy

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Pakistan’s imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his wife appeared in a court near Islamabad on Tuesday and pleaded not guilty in a graft case alleging they accepted the gift of land from a real estate tycoon in exchange for large sums of laundered money, officials said.

The case is the second to indict Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi over acts of corruption allegedly committed while the former cricket star turned Islamist politician was in office.

Prosecutors accuse the couple of using their family’s charity to set up a university on land gifted to them by the tycoon, Malik Riaz. In turn, the businessman was allegedly given $240 million in laundered money that was returned to Pakistan by British authorities.

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Khan, who was ousted in a no-confidence vote in parliament in April 2022, is currently serving multiple prison terms and has some 170 legal cases pending against him on charges ranging from corruption to inciting people to violence and terrorism. The couple had also been convicted earlier in a graft case on charges of selling state gifts while in office.

Khan has denied wrongdoing and has insisted since his arrest last year that all the charges against him are a plot by his rivals to keep him from returning to office.

He was barred from running in the Feb. 8 parliamentary elections in which his rivals from the Pakistan Muslim League party, or PML-N, emerged as the largest in the National Assembly or lower house of the parliament. Khan’s rival, former Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is now on track to form a coalition government when the parliament meets for its inaugural session.

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On Tuesday, Khan was brought before the judge at the high security court set up inside the Adiala Prison, in the garrison city of Rawalpindi just outside Islamabad, where he is serving his prison terms concurrently.

Bibi, who is imprisoned at the couple’s home in Islamabad, was brought to the court in a security convoy. The couple pleaded not guilty after the latest charge was read to them and the judge adjourned the proceedings till next month, Khan’s legal team said.

Separately, Khan and Bibi have also been sentenced to seven years in prison each on charges that their 2018 wedding violated marriage laws, allegedly because insufficient time had lapsed between Bibi’s previous divorce and their union.

Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party condemned Tuesday’s proceedings as “one sided” and complained because Khan’s legal team has had limited access to him and because the media have been barred from covering the trial.

Lawyer Salman Safdar who represents Khan and Bibi told reporters outside the Adiala prison later Tuesday that the two are being treated “in an objectionable and condemnable manner.” He said the couple’s legal team has already filed appeals and that he hopes for an acquittal soon.

Khan has so far been convicted on charges of corruption, revealing official secrets and violating marriage laws in three separate verdicts and sentenced to 10, 14 and seven years respectively. Under Pakistani law, he is to serve the terms concurrently — meaning, the length of the longest of the sentences.

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Khan is appealing all the convictions.

The new parliament’s inaugural session is expected later this week, though the parliament has yet to confirm it.

Ishaq Dar, a senior leader in Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League party, accused President Arif Alvi of trying to delay the National Assembly on “technical grounds” but did not elaborate. Dar said on Tuesday that if Alvi did not convene the session, the outgoing speaker would do it as a constitutional requirement.

Dar also told reporters that the new prime minister will be voted on by the parliament within a few days of the inaugural session. He added that he hopes the new government will be in place next week.

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