Panama Papers Leak
Pak SC orders probe into PM Nawaz Sharif's corruption
ISLAMABAD, Apr 20 : Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was given a reprieve Thursday 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 the ongoing case which 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 (ISI) 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 judgement which opens with the epigraph that launches Mario Puzo's 1969 novel "The Godfather": "Behind every great fortune there is a crime".
Two of the five judges went further than the ruling, branding Sharif "dishonest" and saying he should be disqualified, but they were outnumbered.
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, resulting in his disqualification.
Government supporters could be seen celebrating the judgement with sweets 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," defence minister Khawaja Asif told AFP.
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 is completed.
"Whatever explanations they gave inside the Supreme Court about their source of income have been exposed as lies," Khan told reporters in the wake of the judgement Thursday.
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 militancy-plagued country.
It erupted with the publication of 11.5 million secret documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca last year which documented the offshore dealings of many of the world's rich and powerful.Among the global elite implicated were three of Sharif's four children-his daughter and presumptive political heir Maryam, and his sons Hasan and Hussein.
At the heart of the matter is the legitimacy of the funds used by the Sharif family to purchase several high-end 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 is non-existent, and said the onus was on Sharif to prove his relatives did not engage in money laundering.
Observers have called the case important for Pakistan, which ranked a lowly 116th out of 176 countries in a corruption index released by Transparency International in January.
"Whether the court convicts him or not today it spells trouble and the prime minister will be weakened," said Herald newspaper editor Badar Alam.
Meanwhile, Sharif and his children deny any wrongdoing.Police in riot gear surrounded the court in the capital, Islamabad, as it delivered its verdict and some protesters urged Sharif to step down with shouts of "Go Nawaz, Go Nawaz".
The Supreme Court agreed last year to investigate the Sharif family's offshore wealth after opposition leader Imran Khan threatened street protests following the leaking of the "Panama Papers".
Documents leaked from the Panama-based Mossack Fonseca law firm appeared to show that Sharif's daughter and two sons owned offshore holding companies registered in the British Virgin Islands and used them to buy properties in London.
Sharif told parliament last year that his family wealth was acquired legally in the decades before he entered politics and that no money was siphoned off-shore. —Agencies