Opposition leaders in Pakistan have released a video they say shows a senior judge confessing to being blackmailed into convicting former prime minister Nawaz Sharif on corruption charges.
The video was released during a dramatic press conference in Lahore by Sharif’s daughter, Maryam Nawaz, who said it would “rewrite history”.
She said that Judge Arshad Malik was threatened with the release of compromising videos if he did not convict Sharif and that her video shows him admit there was a lack of evidence against the former leader.
The video has not been verified independently and a spokesman for Imran Khan’s government said it must be examined forensically.
In a statement released by his court, Judge Malik said the video was false and misleading, and that it had been recorded over more than one occasion, with his comments presented out of context. He had not bowed to pressure on the verdict of Sharif’s case, it said.
Sharif, who led the Pakistan Muslim League party, was removed from power in 2017 after the leaked documents collectively known as the Panama Papers disclosed his family’s links to offshore wealth. He was later found guilty in a series of anti-corruption cases.
Judge Malik sentenced Sharif to a seven-year prison term in December, ruling that the former prime minister could not prove that funds he used to buy a steel mill in Saudi Arabia had been acquired legally.
Ms Nawaz said the judge had contacted PML-N party worker Nasir Butt following the conviction, telling him he was plagued by guilt and nightmares after delivering the “unjust” verdict.
In a recording that is claimed to be of a meeting between the pair, Judge Malik seems to complain that he was pressured into delivering a conviction after unnamed men showed him they had possession of a personal video described as being “immoral” in nature.
In the video presented by the PML-N, the judge appears to say that “there is no allegation of financial corruption” in the case and that there is “no evidence that any money was taken from any department”.
Sharif’s removal from power helped galvanise Imran Khan’s long-running anti-corruption campaign, which helped him be elected as leader last year. Sharif’s PML-N party has always maintained the cases against him were political and directed by his enemies.
Anti-corruption prosecutions in Pakistan have a long history of being used selectively to target political opponents and those who have fallen foul of the military.
The Pakistani opposition has been fractured since Mr Khan’s general election win and its leaders have faced a barrage of anti-corruption prosecutions.
Firdous Ashiq Awan, the government’s chief spokeswoman and a special assistant to the prime minister, accused Ms Nawaz of an absurd attempt to garner public sympathy for her jailed father.
“The judge’s conversation and the [video’s] credibility will be evaluated. Is it real? Credible? True or false? It will only be determined after the audit,” she said.
“We will hide nothing from the people.”
Making video or audio recordings of others without their consent and sharing them with third parties is illegal in Pakistan.