Islamabad: Embattled Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif got a temporary breather from the Supreme Court on Thursday that said there was “insufficient evidence” to remove him from office but ordered setting up of a Joint Investigation Team to probe graft allegations against his family based on the Panama Papers.
The judgment also ordered Sharif and his sons, Hassan and Hussain, to appear before the JIT. The decision was celebrated by the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), as it removed, for the time being, the fear of PM’s removal from office. The main opposition parties, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and Pakistan Peoples Party, however, called Sharif to resign, claiming that he was left with no moral authority to stay as PM until the completion of investigation.
The decision of the five-judge bench had two dissenting notes in t he 540-page verdict. Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Gulzar Ahmed ruled Sharif should be disqualified, whereas the other three, Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, Justice Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijazul Ahsan, decided to form a JIT.
The bench said the JIT, which will be constituted within seven days, had to complete the investigation in two months and would have to submit its report bi-weekly to a special bench of the SC to be constituted by the Chief Justice. The JIT, the verdict said, would include representatives from Inter-Services Intelligence, Military Intelligence, Federal Investigation Agency, Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan and National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
The case stems from documents leaked from the Panama-based Mossack Fonseca law firm, showing that Sharif’s daughter, Maryum Nawaz, and his two sons owned offshore companies registered in the British Virgin Islands and used them to buy properties in London. At least eight offshore companies were found to have links to the Sharif family.
Owning offshore companies is not illegal in Pakistan, but Sharif’s opponents allege that he had bought properties in London by laundering money during his previous two terms as PM in 1990s. Sharif had argued he was not the owner and the money was in his children’s names and he was therefore not obliged to declare the assets on tax and other disclosure documents. Moreover, he claimed it was raised through legitimate business deals, mostly based in Gulf nations.
PTI chief Imran Khan termed the decision “historic” and asked Sharif to resign until the completion of the investigation. “The decision to probe corruption of Nawaz Sharif and his children means that whatever explanation he had given in the SC regarding the source of income and the money trail has been rejected,” said Khan. Former president and Pakistan People’s Party leader Asif Ali Zardari expressed doubts that junior officers working under Sharif cannot deliver justice as part of JIT when the highest court failed to deliver justice.