LAHORE: Disgraced former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will be whisked away by helicopter to the federal capital of Islamabad when he returns Friday to Pakistan from London to face a 10-year prison sentence on corruption charges, anti-corruption officials said.
Sharif, set to arrive in the eastern city of Lahore at 6 p.m., will be accompanied by his daughter Mariam, who was sentenced to seven years in prison. The two were in London visiting Sharif's ailing wife when a Pakistani court convicted them of corruption and sent them to prison.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
Sharif's son-in-law is currently serving his one-year prison sentence on the same charge, which stems from the purchase of luxury apartments in Britain that the court said were bought with illegally gotten money.
Sharif is expected to appeal his conviction and seek bail.
Ahead of his return, police swept through Lahore, arresting scores of Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League party workers to prevent them from greeting him at the airport.
Barbed wire was strung across some roads leading to the Lahore airport on Friday and barricades were positioned at the roadside ready to be used to close main boulevards should crowds start to gather.
Ins a video message Friday reportedly from aboard his aircraft en route to Pakistan, Sharif said he was returning knowing he would be taken directly to prison.
Sharif has been banned from participating in politics, and his brother Shahbaz Sharif now heads his Pakistan Muslim League and is fighting for re-election on July 25.
In a televised appeal to supporters from London earlier this week, Sharif said he was not afraid of prison and asked people to vote for his party. He also used the opportunity to again criticize Pakistan's powerful military, which has ruled the country directly or indirectly for most of its 71-year history, saying Pakistan now has a "state above the state."
During his term in office, Sharif had criticized the military's involvement in civilian affairs and its efforts in fighting extremists.
Pakistani and international rights groups have accused the military of seeking to maintain its influence in Pakistani politics by keeping Sharif out of power. The military denied the accusations saying their assistance in carrying out the elections was requested by Pakistan's Election Commission. The army will deploy 350,000 security personnel to polling stations throughout the country on election day.
Underscoring the security threat, a bomb exploded Friday in northwest Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan. Four supporters were killed near the election rally of a senior politician from an Islamist party who is running for parliament from the northwestern town of Bannu.
The explosion also wounded 20 people and the candidate escaped unharmed, said local police chief Rashid Khan. Candidate Akram Khan Durrani had just finished his speech when the bomb exploded.
Durrani is running in the July 25 vote against popular former lawmaker Imran Khan. He is a candidate of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, an election alliance of radical religious groups. a
No one claimed responsibility, but the bombing came days after a suicide bomber dispatched by the Pakistani Taliban killed secular politician Haroon Ahmed Bilour and 20 others at his rally in the northwestern city of Peshawar.
Khan, who hopes to become the next prime minister, condemned Friday's attack. In a tweet, he said there seems to be a conspiracy to sabotage the July 25 vote. But he said the people of Pakistan will not allow anything to prevent "historic" elections from taking place.