ISLAMABAD- Pakistan’s Supreme Court was set to announce a new judgement Friday that could topple Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is embroiled in a long-running corruption case that has gripped the country. Around 3,000 armed police and paramilitary forces were deployed both inside and around the court in Islamabad ahead of the ruling, due to be announced Friday morning, a police spokesman said. Traffic jams were forming early in the capital as commuters found their morning journey interrupted by security forces.
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. 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. It sparked an uproar with some of its findings, including the claim that documents regarding Sharif’s daughter Maryam and her link to some of the family’s London properties were “falsified” — dated 2006, but typed in Microsoft’s Calibri font, which was not released for commercial use until 2007.
The Sharifs and their allies have consistently and noisily rejected the claims against them, with his ruling PML-N party this month dismissing the investigation team’s report as “trash”. Analysts were divided on what the court might do, though Michael Kugelman of the Wilson Center in Washington noted there was a “pretty strong precedent of the Pakistani judiciary being very active and essentially sending elected officials packing”. However, he added, the case has been “more about his family” than Sharif himself. “You have to acknowledge the fact that Nawaz Sharif himself is not really being accused of anything that is against the law.”
The controversy erupted last year with the publication of 11.5 million secret documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca documenting the offshore dealings of many of the world’s rich and powerful. Three of Sharif’s four children — Maryam, his presumptive political heir, and his sons Hasan and Hussein — were implicated in the papers. At the heart of the case is the legitimacy of the funds used by the Sharif family to purchase several high-end London properties via offshore companies.
The PML-N insists the wealth was acquired legally, through Sharif family businesses in Pakistan and the Gulf.
The push against Sharif has been spearheaded by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf party, who said Sharif has lost “moral authority”. Bribery and other forms of graft are endemic in Pakistan, with the country coming in 116th place out of 176 countries ranked according to corruption by Transparency International in 2017. Sharif has been ousted by graft allegations once before, sacked by the country’s then-president during the first of his three terms as prime minister in 1993.
There is precedent for the Supreme Court to oust a sitting prime minister: in 2012 then-premier Yousaf Raza Gilani was disqualified over contempt of court charges for refusing to reopen a corruption case against president Asif Ali Zardari. The court could also rule that there is still not enough evidence to topple Sharif, and call for more investigation. Sharif has not yet completed a term as prime minister, having been removed in his second term by a military coup in 1999.
The allegations are a blow to his credibility ahead of general elections due to be held by next year, and as the civilian government appears to have reached an uneasy detente with the military, which has ruled Pakistan for half of its existence.
His party currently has no clear successor in place. Daughter Maryam does not hold public office, while his brother Shahbaz Sharif, the current chief minister of Punjab province, holds only a provincial seat.