PAKISTAN’S Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was given a reprieve yesterday when the Supreme Court ordered he be investigated for corruption, but ruled there was not yet sufficient evidence to oust him from power.
Sharif and his children are accused of graft in a case that has captivated Pakistan and threatened to topple the prime minister after the Panama Papers leak last year linked the family to offshore businesses.
The Supreme Court issued a split ruling calling for a joint investigation team of anti-corruption officials along with the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence and Military Intelligence to probe the claims and issue a report within 60 days.
“A thorough investigation is required,” Justice Asif Saeed Khosa told the court, presenting the 540-page written judgment which opens with the epigraph that launches Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel “The Godfather”: “Behind every great fortune there is a crime.”
The court has disqualified leaders before, holding former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in contempt in 2012 for refusing to re-open corruption investigations into then president Asif Ali Zardari.
Government supporters could be seen celebrating the judgment outside the court in Islamabad, where around 1,500 police commandos and riot forces had been deployed ahead of the highly anticipated decision. “We will cooperate fully with the investigation, and seek to clear whatever doubts are left,” defense minister Khawaja Asif said.
Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, whose Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) party has spearheaded the push against Sharif, called on the prime minister to resign until the investigation was completed. “Whatever explanations they gave inside the Supreme Court about their source of income have been exposed as lies,” Khan said.
The continuing controversy could trouble Sharif’s governing party ahead of general elections that must be held by the end of next year, and as security and the economy improve in the country.
At the heart of the matter is the legitimacy of the funds used by the Sharif family to buy several London properties via offshore companies.
Sharif’s ruling PML-N party insists the wealth was acquired legally through family businesses in Pakistan and the Gulf. But PTI lawyers argued the paper trail for the funds was non-existent, and said the onus was on Sharif to prove his relatives did not engage in money laundering.