Pakistani man sentenced to die for killing ex-wife from US

This is a locator map for Pakistan with its capital, Islamabad, and the Kashmir region. (AP Photo) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

ISLAMABAD (AP) — The ex-husband of an American woman of Pakistani origin was convicted of murdering her as part of a property dispute and sentenced to death Saturday by a Pakistani court.

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

Shabnam Naz, attorney for the victim, said Judge Muhammad Afzal Majuka announced in open court the results of the yearlong trial. Naz said Habib was given the death sentence for murdering his former wife last October. He was also convicted of kidnapping Swati and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Swati had traveled to Pakistan to take possession of the former couple's home in a posh neighborhood in Rawalpindi. The lawyer said that after killing Swati in the disputed home, Habib and his accomplices took the body to Habib's home in Khyber Patunkwa province and buried it there.

Naz said Habib had illegally transferred ownership of the Rawalpindi house to his mother.

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

Defense attorney Talat Mahmood Zaid, who represented Habib and the other suspects, said he will appeal the conviction and sentencing to a higher court.

Swati, the mother of three sons, arrived in Pakistan on Oct. 16, 2021 to claim the former couple's home in Rawalpindi but disappeared. She and Habib had been divorced in November 2020 and Swati lived in Columbus, Ohio and later bought a house in New York, her attorney said.

Swati's son Abdullah Mahdi filed a complaint with police after his calls to his mother in Pakistan went unanswered. During a subsequent investigation, U.S. Embassy officials contacted local police for help in finding Swati. Police questioned Habib, who was the last person to see her — at the airport on her arrival.

Habib later confessed that he abducted Swati at the airport and killed her the next day. He told investigators he buried Swati's body at his home in the Lakki Marwat district of Khyber Patunkwa province. Habib subsequently led the police to the crime scene where they exhumed Swati’s body in December.

“To me this evil man planned this whole game after getting closer to Wajiha Swati who was some 15 year older than him,” said Naz, the attorney.

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.