Pakistani man sentenced to death for murdering US ex-wife

Islamabad (AP) — The ex-husband of a Pakistani-American woman was convicted of her murder in a property dispute and sentenced to death Saturday by a Pakistani court.

The district court in Rawalpindi also sentenced his father Rizwan Habib and an employee to seven years in prison for complicity in the killing of 47-year-old Wajiha Swati, a lawyer said. The court acquitted three other suspects due to lack of evidence.

Shabnam Naz, the victim’s lawyer, said Judge Muhammad Afzal Majuka announced the results of the year-long trial in open court. Naz said Habib was sentenced to death for killing his ex-wife last October. He was killed at Habib’s house in Lakki Marwat district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Habib was also convicted of kidnapping Swati and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Habib’s father and another relative were sentenced to seven years in prison for complicity in the kidnapping and murder. Three other suspects – employees of Habib – were acquitted due to lack of sufficient evidence, Naz said.

Defense lawyer Talat Mahmood Zaid, who represented Habib and the other suspects, said he would appeal the conviction and sentence to a higher court.

Swati, a mother of three sons, arrived in Pakistan on October 16, 2021 to occupy the former couple’s house in an upscale neighborhood of Islamabad, but disappeared. She and Habib divorced in November 2020, and Swati lived in Columbus, Ohio, and later bought a home in New York, her lawyer said.

Swati’s son Abdullah Mahdi filed a police complaint after his calls to his mother in Pakistan went unanswered. During a subsequent investigation, US Embassy officials contacted local police for assistance in locating Swati. Police questioned Habib, who was the last person to see her — at the airport upon her arrival.

Habib later confessed to kidnapping Swati at the airport and murdering her the next day. He told the investigators that he buried Swati’s body at his house in Lakki Marwat. Habib then led the police to the crime scene, where they exhumed Swati’s body in December last year.

Habib was Swati’s second husband. She married him after her first husband, a cardiologist, was murdered in Pakistan.

“For me this evil man planned this whole game after getting closer to Wajiha Swati who was about 15 years older than him,” said Naz, the lawyer.

According to Human Rights Watch, violence against women and girls—including rape, so-called honor killings, acid attacks, domestic violence, and forced marriage—remains a serious problem in Pakistan. Male relatives generally deprive women of their inheritance rights granted by religious and state laws.

Rights activists say the desire for property is often a motive in murder cases involving women in this conservative society.

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