Pakistan on Friday was waiting with bated breath for the Supreme Court’s verdict in the Panama Papers case, which will decide the fate of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after he and his three children were accused of corruption and living beyond their means.
If the Supreme Court finds him or his family guilty of corruption as charged by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) earlier this month, Sharif, who is serving his third term as premier, will have to step down. He was unable to complete both his earlier terms, being removed once for corruption and ousted during the second stint in a military coup.
An expanded bench of the apex court will give its decision at 11.30 am Pakistan time during a special sitting. The decision will be announced in Courtroom No 1 by a five-judge bench.
The verdict will not only decide the fate of Sharif but is also likely to shape Pakistan’s political future, local observers said.
In its report, which was leaked to media, the JIT alleged Sharif’s family accumulated wealth far beyond its means and that his children, including heir-apparent Maryam Sharif, signed falsified documents. The Sharif family was also accused of using offshore companies to buy luxury flats in a posh London neighbourhood.
Sharif and his ruling PML-N party have dismissed the allegations. He was also questioned by the JIT, the first time a premier has appeared before an investigation agency.
“We are looking at three possibilities: holding Sharif guilty and hence he being asked to step down, ordering further investigations through government agencies, or Sharif being cleared of the charges,” said analyst Wusatullah Khan, who added that “Sharif being let off without any action is very unlikely”.
The bench is headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, who had commenced his dissenting note in an April 20 judgement with a quote from Mario Puzo’s novel The Godfather and declared Sharif “disqualified” for not being honest to the nation.
Khosa had directed the Election Commission to issue a notification for Sharif’s disqualification, an opinion that was endorsed by Justice Gulzar Ahmed.
But the majority judgement by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijazul Ahsan had given Sharif and his children an opportunity to explain their position before the JIT, which included two representatives from the powerful Military Intelligence and Inter-Services Intelligence agencies.
Later, a three-judge bench oversaw the working of the JIT, which submitted its damning report after a two-month probe.
If Sharif is asked to step down, Pakistan will be headed by a Sharif nominee till elections are held in 2018. There has also been speculation that Sharif could order early elections as the PML-N continues to be the country’s most powerful political force. The PML-N is also expected to benefit in a snap poll from a sympathy wave for Sharif in the event of a guilty verdict from the top court.