Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s political future hangs in the balance with the country’s Supreme Court giving a split verdict in favour of him on corruption allegations against his family members but at the same time directing the government to set up a joint investigation team (JIT) to probe the allegations. The JIT will have 60 days to revert with the finding whether the Prime Minister is guilty or not. Opposition parties, led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, had filed the petition against Nawaz Sharif last year after his children’s names appeared in the leaked Panama Papers, which documented the offshore dealings of many of the world’s rich and powerful. The Opposition urged the court to disqualify the Prime Minister citing the Panama leaks. Three of the five-member Bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Justice Asif Khosa, ruled against the disqualification citing “insufficient evidence,” while the other two dissented. The matter of disqualification would be heard after the JIT submits its findings.
The case related to alleged money-laundering to purchase assets in London by Nawaz Sharif in the 1990s when he twice served as Prime Minister. It had been reported earlier that Nawaz Sharif’s two sons Hussain and Hasan and daughter Mariam had set up four offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands. These companies allegedly owned at least six upmarket properties in London. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists investigated the whole affair at the instance of Panamian law firm Mossack Fonseca whose leaked documents are known the world over as the Panama papers. The Sharif family allegedly mortgaged four of these properties to the Deutsche Bank (Suisse) SA for a loan of GBP 7 million and the Bank of Scotland part-financed the purchase of two other apartments. The petitioner had claimed that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had lied in his address to the nation on April 5 and in his speech before the National Assembly on May 16, 2016 about the investments made by his children.
The clouds of uncertainty and grim forebodings are still hovering over Nawaz Sharif’s head. While two judges on the five-judge bench hearing the case had ruled against him, the three others did not exonerate him but gave an “insufficient evidence” verdict. Two months later, the bench will sit again, hopefully in a better position to rule on his fate. For now, there can be little doubt that Sharif’s credibility has taken a knock. The Army, which likes to call the shots in Pakistan, would be happy to see him weakened but is wary of being seen to be influencing the verdict. All eyes will indeed be rivetted on the apex court.