Sharif survives Panamagate, SC says not enough evidence to disqualify him

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Islamabad, April 20 : Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Thursday survived the Panamagate scandal that had threatened to oust him. The Supreme Court, in a 3-2 judgement, ordered a fresh probe into allegations of financial irregularities and money laundering, while noting that there was “insufficient evidence” to remove Sharif.

The final verdict saw two dissenting notes in the five-judge bench, with Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Gulzar Ahmed ruling against Sharif, saying he should be disqualified, while the other three were in favour of forming a Joint Investigation Team for a fresh probe.

Reading the 540-page verdict, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa asked how the Sharif family assets were transferred from Pakistan to Jeddah in the first place.

“It needs to be investigated how the money was transferred to Qatar,” the verdict read.

A JIT, made up of officials from the military and other investigating agencies, would be set up within a week and submit a report in 60 days, the court.

Justice Khosa said the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had failed to probe the case properly but they would be part of the JIT.

Sharif, who many in Pakistan feared might be forced to step down on Thursday, will appear before the probe team.

The scandal erupted last year with the publication of the “Panama Papers” which documented the offshore dealings of many of the world’s rich and powerful.

Among those implicated were three of Sharif’s four children – his daughter and presumptive political heir Maryam and sons Hasan and Hussein.

At the heart of the matter is the legitimacy of the funds used by Sharif’s family to buy high-end London properties through offshore firms. His party says the wealth was acquired legally in Pakistan and the Gulf.

“It needs to be investigated how the money was transferred to Qatar,” the Thursday 540-page verdict read.

The JIT will be required to present the report after every two weeks.

While the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) was quick to tweet photos and statements of celebration after the Supreme Court verdict, there was silence in the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) camp.

Later, through its official account, the PTI termed the verdict as “favourable” for the party.

A PTI tweet said: “Decision as it stands right now. Pakistan 2, corruption 0. 3 judgements reserved for PM and kids to show face in court for JIT.”

The Premier’s daughter, Maryam Nawaz, tweeted a photo of Prime Minister Sharif, his family and PML-N leaders celebrating the verdict with smiles and embraces.

Addressing the media after the verdict, Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique said: “Every party including Imran Khan, Sirajul Haq should now respect the SC verdict.”

“We will cooperate with the JIT and keep on respecting the court.”

“The split verdict proves that people, especially the PTI who opposed the Prime Minister, are in a minority,” said Ahsan Iqbal, a leader from Sharif’s PML-N.

As tensions peaked in Islamabad ahead of the verdict, around 1,500 police commandos and riot forces were deployed around the court.

Lawyers opposing Sharif say the onus is on him to prove that his family did not engage in money laundering.

The landmark judgement was made public 57 days after the case was last heard by the court.