For what seems like the umpteenth time, a court deemed former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif guilty of assets beyond means and sentenced him to prison yesterday.

The accountability court in Islamabad found Sharif guilty of hoarding assets beyond his means in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills corruption reference. According to the court, the Sharifs were unable to justify the source of the funds provided to set up Al-Azizia and Hill Metal Establishment. Interestingly, the Court acquitted Nawaz in the Flagships Investment reference.

The verdict undoubtedly puts the Sharifs in a very difficult position, and jeopardises PML-N, whose fate already hangs in the balance. The party saw its popular support shrink with Nawaz’s first imprisonment in July, and has only been going downhill as more of its members continue to end up in jail. The verdict has been criticised for the same reasons that the Avenfield verdict was censured- the opposition contends that the fact that NAB Courts puts the onus of proof on the accused, instead of the prosecution, as unfair.

PML-N’s grievances with the verdict may be legitimate. Yet when lightening keeps striking the same tree it is difficult not to point fingers at the tree. We wonder how long we are supposed to feel sympathetic to PML-N when it keeps making the same mistakes again and again in front of the Court. The NAB ordinance may be strict and the odds may be stacked against Sharif- yet when experience has showed the party that, fairly or unfairly, the Court will implement the highest scrutiny when it comes to assets beyond means, it is incompetent of PML-N to not work on launching a solid defence.

The verdict yesterday should serve as a lesson to PML-N and to other parties whose leaders are facing NAB cases- the corruption cases should not be taken lightly and the party shouldn’t expect that the courts will apply a liberal, lenient interpretation to the Ordinance. The fact that Nawaz was convicted in one reference, and acquitted in the other, on the basis of evidence, indicates the importance of providing solid accounting of properties and income.

These cases are not only being held in accountability courts- these verdicts hold considerable influence on the court of public opinion, and public reaction to this highly verdict yesterday was nonchalance. The verdict may be unfair but in the public imagination, these seasoned politicians have years of accounting to prove. These experienced parties need to adjust to the rules and bring out their papers- or face losses both in the courts and the polls.