Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has narrowly managed to save his premiership after a Pakistan Supreme Court bench declared there was “insufficient evidence” to remove him from office in connection with the Panama papers case. But the court ordered the setting up of a Joint Investigation Team to probe the graft allegations against his family.
Sharif and his family has been accused of money laundering and holding disproportionate assets, when he twice served as Prime Minister in 1990s. The allegations surfaced in the Panama Papers, which were leaked to the media in 2016.
The court ordered Sharif, 67, and his two sons – Hasan and Hussain – to appear before the JIT, which has to complete its probe within two months.
The case is about alleged money laundering by Sharif in 1990s when he twice served as Prime Minister to purchase assets in London.
The five-judge bench issued the landmark 547 page judgement, 57 days after concluding the hearing.
Three judges ruled in favour of Sharif, while Justice Gulzar and Justice Khosa dissented the majority decision and wanted to remove the Prime Minister as sought by the petitioners.
The JIT, which has been ordered to present its report before the bench after every two weeks, will include officials from the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the Security and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Military Intelligence (MI).
The case was launched on November 3 and the court held 35 hearings before concluding the proceedings on February 23.
The case filed by various petitioners like Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan, Jamaat-i-Islami emir Sirajul Haq and Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, sought disqualification of PM Sharif over his alleged misstatement in his address to the nation on April 5 and his speech before the National Assembly on May 16, 2016.
The petitioners had claimed that the prime minister lied about the investments made by his children in offshore companies, which led to the acquisition of four apartments in London’s upscale Park Lane neighbourhood. The assets surfaced when Panama papers leaked last year and revealed that they were managed through offshore companies owned by Sharif’s children.
The court also ordered that it was important to probe how money was transferred to Qatar.
In the 547-page verdict, the bench said that the NAB Chairman failed to cooperate with the investigation, and the DG FIA failed to curb white collar crimes, necessitating the formulation of the JIT.
Sharif’s supporters hailed the verdict.
“We have been vindicated as Prime Minister had last year asked to set up a probe commission to investigate Panama leaks scandal,” said Khawaja Asif, defence minister and close ally of Prime Minister Sharif.
Opposition leader and lawyers termed the court’s verdict as an indictment of Sharif and demanded his resignation.
“The court has given him just 60 days and then he will be removed as the JIT would find him guilty,” said Imran Ismael of PTI after the verdict.
(With inputs from agencies)