Pakistan SC begins hearing to decide Nawaz Sharif’s fate

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Nawaz Sharif

ISLAMABAD: As the Supreme Court resumed hearing of the Panama Papers case against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Monday, his legal team challenged the report of the investigators that found him guilty of perjury, tampering documents and concealing his assets.

Sharif family’s fourmember legal team, led by advocate Khwaja Haris, told the court that the six-member joint investigation team (JIT) report was biased, unfair and partial, and asked the bench to reject it. The JIT was tasked by Supreme Court to probe Sharif ‘s offshore assets and companies revealed last year by Panama Papers leak.

“The entire investigation was a farce and an eyewash and was undertaken with a predisposed mind to malign and implicate the respondents in some wrongdoing or the other,” according to the objection filed by the Sharif family. The main objections raised by Sharif ‘s lawyers against the JIT were that it had misused its authority, that its chief investigator Wajid Zia had hired services of a legal firm owned by his cousin, and that documents were acquired from abroad through illegal means. The lawyers also said facts about the prime minister’s personality and employment were imaginary and the investigation was against the rules.

Sharif ‘s opponents have accused him of using his political influence to amass wealth through illegal means and called on him to resign from office. The JIT report has further strengthened their argument and increased pressure on Sharif family. So far Sharif has refused to quit, calling the investigators’ report a compilation of “allegations and assumptions”. His decision to stay in power was endorsed by the federal cabinet last week.

If disqualified by the SC, the PM would be out of politics for life. In such a case, observers believe that he will announce a successor, possibly his brother Shahbaz Sharif, who is chief minister of Punjab, and let the government complete its five-year term rather than dissolving the national assembly.

Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), the main opposition party and petitioner against Sharif in the Panama Papers case, wants dissolution of the National Assembly, hoping that Sharif ‘s conviction will help it in politically damaging the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in early general elections.

There are also suspicions that spy agency, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), has been active to create a political environment ahead of elections due in 2018 to bring a government of its choice to retain its influence in politics.

During Monday’s hearing, the lawyers for petitioners requested the court to summon PM Sharif for cross examination, disqualify him from parliament and send cases against him and his family to an accountability court. After hearing the arguments of the petitioners, the court adjourned its proceedings and directed lawyers of Sharif family to present their arguments on Tuesday.

It’s not clear how the apex court will respond to the findings of investigators, who had submitted their report in the court last week. The JIT was created by the SC in April after two judges of a five-member bench had decided that Sharif be disqualified while the remaining asked for further probe. It appears that the court would not reject the JIT report in entirety considering creation of the JIT by judges themselves.

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