Supreme Court verdict on Panama Papers case cut short his third stint as PM
Pakistan’s top court on Friday disqualified Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from office after a damning corruption probe into his family wealth, cutting short his third stint in power.
A spokesman for Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif says the premier has stepped down despite having reservations about the court order that disqualified him from serving.
In a brief statement, Sharif’s office said Sharif relinquished his charge as prime minister after learning that the Supreme Court disqualified him because of corruption allegations.
The statement claims that justice has not been done with Sharif, but the prime minister stepped down to show his respect for the judiciary and rule of law.
The Supreme Court dismissed Sharif after an investigative panel alleged his family could not account for its vast wealth. Domestic media reported a criminal investigation would also be launched against the premier and his family.
The court also disqualified Finance Minister Ishaq Dar.
“He is no more eligible to be an honest member of the Parliament, and he ceases to be holding the office of prime minister,” Judge Ejaz Afzal Khan said in court.
The Election Commission of Pakistan has been ordered to immediately denotify Nawaz.
As the verdict was announced opposition supporters erupted in applause, rushing into the street chanting slogans and handing out sweets in celebration.
The decision brings to an unceremonious end Sharif’s third term in power, roughly one year before scheduled general elections which would have seen him become the first Pakistani prime minister to complete a full five-year term.
Most have seen their tenures cut short by the powerful military or interference from the Supreme Court. Others have been ousted by their own party, forced to resign – or been assassinated
The National Accountability Bureau has been ordered to complete investigations within six weeks. The NAB directed to file references against Dar, who was Sharif’s former accountant and had submitted documents to the Supreme Court about how the Sharif family obtained their wealth that included a portfolio of upscale London properties. Dar has been considered one of the most influential people in Sharif’s cabinet and credited with bringing the economy on to a more sure footing after the 2013 balance of payments crisis.
The court had in April declared there was “insufficient evidence” to oust Sharif over the graft allegations engulfing his family, and ordered an investigation team to probe the matter.
Friday’s decision by a five-judge panel of the court was not surprising as many legal experts and opposition leaders were expecting punitive measures against Sharif and his family.
Sharif’s party expressed its disappointment over the court order.
“This decision is not surprising but we are disappointed,” Information Minister Maryam Aurangzeb told reporters shortly after the ruling. She said their Pakistan Muslim League ruling party will issue a detailed reaction after consulting Sharif’s advisers.
Legal experts say Sharif will now nominate a lawmaker of his choice to replace him under the provisions of the constitution. They say Sharif’s nominee would be elected by the National Assembly, where the ruling party enjoys majority.
“The Supreme Court has disqualified Nawaz Sharif for concealing his assets,” Hashmat Habib, a legal expert said. He said the court’s order was binding and Sharif and his family may not challenge it.
It is not the first time the judiciary has ordered dismissal of the elected prime minister. In 2012, the court convicted the then-Premier Yousuf Raza Gilani in a contempt case, forcing him to step down.
The team of civilian and military investigators found there was a “significant disparity” between the Sharif family’s income and lifestyle in its report, which was released to the public and submitted to the court earlier this month.
The current case against Sharif and his family dates back to 2016, when documents leaked from a Panama-based law firm indicated that Sharif’s sons owned several offshore companies.
Sharif’s son Hussain Nawaz at the time acknowledged owning offshore companies but insisted they used legal money to set up businesses abroad.
However, the court-appointed investigators in July concluded a significant disparity existed between the Sharif family’s declared wealth and its known sources of income.
Opposition lawmakers, who petitioned the court for disqualification of Sharif, welcomed the court decision, saying it was a victory for justice.
Sirajul Haq, who heads Pakistan’s Jamaat-e-Islami party, told reporters that he had been fighting a legal battle to ensure the accountability of the “corrupt ruling elite.”