Supreme Court disqualifies prime minister from office over Panama Papers allegations

Associated Press

A five-judge panel of Pakistan's Supreme Court on Friday disqualified thrice-elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from holding office over allegations of corruption against him and his family.

The court in a unanimous decision said Sharif was disqualified for not remaining "truthful and honest" after considering evidence against him. It also ruled Sharif could no longer serve as a member of the National Assembly, a powerful lower house of the parliament.

General elections are to be held in Pakistan next year and the Supreme Court ruling ensures he won't be in the running.

The court asked the Election Commission of Pakistan to issue notification of Sharif's removal. But Sharif quickly stepped down, saying he did it to show his respect for the country's judiciary.

Sharif's resignation created a murky legal mess with constitutional experts at a loss to explain who is in charge in Pakistan until his successor is nominated. It wasn't immediately clear when that would be or who it would be.

The court also directed the country's anti-corruption body to file corruption charges against Sharif, his two sons and daughter in the next six weeks for concealing their assets.

Sharif's party expressed its disappointment over the court order.

"This decision is not surprising but we are disappointed," Information Minister Maryam Aurangzeb told reporters shortly after the ruling. She said their Pakistan Muslim League ruling party will issue a detailed reaction after consulting Sharif's advisers.

Legal experts say Sharif will now nominate a lawmaker of his choice to replace him under the provisions of the constitution. They say Sharif's nominee would be elected by the National Assembly, where the ruling party enjoys majority.

"The Supreme Court has disqualified Nawaz Sharif for concealing his assets," Hashmat Habib, a legal expert said. He said the court's order was binding and Sharif and his family may not challenge it.

It was not the first time the judiciary has ordered the dismissal of an elected prime minister. In 2012, the court convicted the then-Premier Yusuf Raza Gilani in a contempt case, forcing him to step down.

The current case against Sharif and his family dates back to 2016, when documents leaked from a Panama-based law firm indicated that Sharif's sons owned several offshore companies.

Sharif's son Hussain Nawaz at the time acknowledged owning offshore companies but insisted they used legal money to set up businesses abroad.

However, the court-appointed investigators in July concluded a significant disparity existed between the Sharif family's declared wealth and its known sources of income.

Opposition lawmakers, who petitioned the court for disqualification of Sharif, welcomed the court decision, saying it was a victory for justice.

Sirajul Haq, who heads Pakistan's Jamaat-e-Islami party, told reporters that he had been fighting a legal battle to ensure the accountability of the "corrupt ruling elite."

Copyright © 2017, The Virginia Gazette
59°