Hafiz Saeed is convicted of using his charity organisations for funding a militant group. His lawyer says his conviction is linked to Pakistan's bid to escape Financial Action Task Force's grey list.

Hafiz Muhammad Saeed (C), chief of the Islamic charity organisation Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), speaks to supporters during a gathering to protest against Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, December 29, 2017.
Hafiz Muhammad Saeed (C), chief of the Islamic charity organisation Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), speaks to supporters during a gathering to protest against Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, December 29, 2017. (Reuters)

A Pakistani court on Wednesday handed down a five-year prison term to a cleric for terrorism financing.

Hafiz Saaed is wanted by Washington and New Delhi for his alleged role in the bloody 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people in neighbouring India. The US put a $10 million bounty out for his arrest.

The Pakistani court was not trying the cleric in connection with that attack, but on charges that his charity organisations, Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Falah-e-Insaniat, are fronts for funding the militant group that he founded, Lashkar-e-Taiba. 

India blames that group for the deadly attacks in Mumbai.

Saeed has denied any involvement and says his network, which spans 300 seminaries and schools, hospitals, a publishing house, and ambulance services, has no ties to militant groups.

Saeed and the four other suspects were present in the courtroom in the eastern city of Lahore when the judge announced the much-awaited verdict. 

Saeed was given a five-year prison term on terrorism financing charges in one case, plus six months in jail in another case registered against him in the eastern Punjab province.

The sentences can be appealed. All five men pleaded not guilty during the trial, a government lawyer Abdul Rauf said.

Conviction linked to FATF? 

Saeed was found guilty of "being part of a banned terrorist outfit" and for "having illegal property," his lawyer Imran Gill told AFP news agency.

Gill gave no details about Saeed's conviction apart from saying he would be kept in prison in the eastern city of Lahore.

Both India and the US praised Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan's government when it arrested the cleric last July on the charges of terror financing.

Khan's government has stepped up its efforts to get Pakistan off the Financial Action Task Force's grey list, which denotes its status as a haven for money laundering.

"There was nothing to the case really, this was just due to pressure from the FATF," his lawyer Gill told AFP.

The court's judgment, seen by AFP, did not specify which banned terrorist group Saeed belonged to or clarify what is meant by "illegal property," which can refer to money or other property.

The JuD said Pakistan had been taking what it said were illegal and unconstitutional actions lately against Saeed and the groups, under pressure from West, and to please the FATF.

India attacks

There was no immediate comment from New Delhi over the cleric's conviction and sentencing on Wednesday. 

India wants to try Saeed in its own courts for the 2008 killings in Mumbai and says Pakistan should share evidence to help with the cleric’s prosecution there.

Saeed has never been charged over the attacks in Pakistani courts, despite pressure from India.

Lashkar-e-Taiba disavows armed militancy inside Pakistan but says it's focused on India-administered Kashmir where it's fighting for the disputed region's merger with Pakistan.

READ MORE: Who is Hafiz Muhammad Saeed?

Source: TRTWorld and agencies