Sun Nov 19 2017, 11:15:34 +03

Pakistani Prime Minister Sharif narrowly survives dismissal in Panama Papers scandal

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(Islamabad-AlummahWorld- Rajab 21,1438H) The Pakistani prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, has narrowly survived an attempt in the supreme court to unseat him on allegations of corruption levelled by the opposition.

The case against Sharif emerged last year after the Panama Papers leak linked his children to offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands in relation to the purchase of upmarket property in London.

Opposition figures have accused Sharif of failing to explain the source of the offshore money and lying to parliament. Sharif and his family have denied any wrongdoing. Last year he told parliament that his family wealth was acquired legally in the decades before he entered politics.

Sharif has weathered the attack on his political career, but he does not emerge unscathed because the court’s decision was inconclusive.

The 3-2 decision called for the formation of a joint investigation team to examine the money trail within two months, and the two dissenting judges recommended Sharif’s disqualification. The 540-page judgment ordered him to appear before the investigation team alongside his sons Hassan and Hussain.

Various parties, including the state bank, the Inter-Services Intelligence and the military intelligence will form part of the investigation team.

The case threatened to throw Pakistan into turmoil ahead of next year’s general election. It had been framed as a showdown between Sharif and Imran Khan, the chair of the opposition Pakistan Movement of Justice party (PTI). Its supporters outside the supreme court building chanted: “Go Imran, Go.”

Khan threatened last year to “lock down” Islamabad, before the supreme court agreed to his petition to investigate the financial allegations. In 2014, supporters of Khan and the Canada-based cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri brought the Pakistani capital to a standstill for four months.

The appetite for street protests has subsided, in part because four months of demonstrations won Khan little in terms of political change. His party said it would respect the verdict, but Khan himself demanded Sharif’s resignation until the investigation was completed. 

“What moral right does Nawaz have to remain premier when a criminal investigation is being launched against him?” Khan asked the media after the verdict. “If Nawaz is cleared after JIT’s investigation, he can return to the seat.”

The Sharifs are one of the richest families in south Asia, their wealth based on sugar and iron business investments in the 1980s. Thursday’s case stems from documents leaked from the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, but allegations of corruption have long dogged the family.

In 1998, the head of Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency, Rehman Malik, disclosed that the Sharif family had invested in high-end London property through what he called, “ill-gotten wealth earned through corrupt practices”.

The London flats, bought between 1993 and 1996, are located at Avenfield House overlooking Park Lane. According to the leaked Mossack Fonseca papers, Nawaz Sharif’s son Hussain and his daughter Mariam used the flats as collateral in October 2008 to take out large loans from the Swiss arm of Deutsche Bank.

The flats are held by two British Virgin Island (BVI) companies, one of which – Nescoll – had Mariam Nawaz Sharif listed as the sole shareholder. Papers for a third BVI company, Coomber, were signed jointly by the two children. In a statement last year, the family claimed that Mariam, who has a promising political career of her own, was not a beneficiary or owner of any of the companies and that her brother had filed all relevant tax returns.