Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has survived a Supreme Court case, corruption allegations, and the threat of immediate disqualification from office.
But the court judgment opened with a quote from the novel, The Godfather: “Behind every great fortune there is a crime.”
Even though the Prime Minister is celebrating, the verdict hasn’t entirely cleared his name. The controversy is far from over, and allegations of corruption, first raised in the Panama Papers last year are still being investigated.
Asia Calling correspondent Naeem Sahoutara reports from Karachi.
Supporters of Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif were dancing with joy on streets across Pakistan last month. On April 20, the Supreme Court ruled by a slim majority that there was insufficient evidence of corruption to dismiss the Prime Minister from office.
The Prime Minister’s supporters are claiming victory. Kulsoom Bibi is a member of the PM’s party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz or PML-N. “Today’s Supreme Court verdict has met our hopes,” crooned Bibi. “And Imran Khan, you should weep, this is your destiny!”
Imran Khan, cricketer-turned-politician and chairman of the opposition party, Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf, or PTI, led the court case against the PM. Over three months, the court investigated evidence of corruption, first revealed in the Panama Papers last year.
The Papers suggest that Sharif profited from his position as Prime Minister when he held office in the 1990s. They show that his three children owned offshore companies that were used to acquire foreign assets, including apartments in Mayfair, London, that the assets were not declared, and were used to avoid paying tax.
Imran Khan said the court verdict isn’t a clear win for the PM.
“Two of the senior judges, who are the future Chief Justices of Pakistan, have ruled immediate disqualification of the PM because he was dishonest to the nation,” explained Khan.
In its split judgment, two of the five judges declared the PM ‘dishonest to the nation and the Parliament.’ They recommended he should be disqualified from office for lying about offshore companies and the wealth of his children.
But the three remaining judges concluded that the PM retain office, ordering an investigation into Sharif, his family, and the money trail surrounding them, to be carried out within just two months.
Sharif survived immediate disqualification, but the opposition believes he has lost the moral mandate to govern, and is demanding his resignation.
“This is a historic judgment in Pakistan’s history, against a sitting Prime Minister,” declared Imran Khan. “All five judges have ruled that… whatever explanation he gave for the source of his income and the money trail surrounding him, it has been rejected.”
It’s not illegal to hold offshore accounts, but it is illegal to use them for tax evasion, and for the Prime Minister to leave wealth and assets undeclared.
The forthcoming investigation should establish whether Sharif’s three children, Maryam, Hasan and Hussain Nawaz, owned offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands, and stashed wealth in Panama in order to avoid taxation.
But former President, Asif Ali Zardari, is skeptical that a further investigation will change matters.
“I condemn the mockery that’s been made of the nation over the last nine months to a year. I also condemn this judgment,” he asserted. “It’s a joke, what can the 19 investigating officers do that the Supreme Court could not do? Will they investigate and disqualify this Prime Minister?”
Around sixty percent of Pakistanis live below the poverty line. Corruption remains rampant in the country. According to Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau, the wealthy illegally send more than five million US dollars abroad each year.
Allegations of corruption have surrounded Nawaz Sharif’s family for decades. But the Government argues that such allegations are politically motivated. State Minister for Information Maryiam Aurangzeb told the media, “The PM calmly faced the allegations against him, and set a historic precedent, as he presented three generations of his family - his late father, his children and himself - before the court for accountability.”
Meanwhile, Sharif’s daughter, politician Maryam Nawaz has taken to twitter, calling the Panama Papers ‘crap,’ and saying they were ‘trashed in the rest of the ‘world’.
The Panama Papers have led to nearly 150 investigations, audits, prosecutions and arrests in almost 80 countries around the world, over the last year.
As the investigation team prepares to probe a financial controversy spanning several decades in just 2 months, the Government is working on it’s image for the next election in a year’s time.