In a jolt to Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the country's Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered a probe into the Panama Papers scandal involving corruption allegations against the family of the beleaguered premier.
According to the Panama Papers, three of Sharif's four children — Maryam, Hasan and Hussain — were owners of offshore companies and "were owners or had the right to authorise transactions for several companies." But Sharif and his family have dismissed the allegations of money laundering and denied any wrongdoing, even as the opposition had been demanding an independent probe. In a statement issued after consultation with his legal team, the Prime Minister had said, "The court of public opinion has been making decisions, it would be better to wait for the judiciary's decision," going on to add that he would welcome the apex court's decision.
The Supreme Court heard several identical petitions by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan and others to investigate the charges of corruption, stating that Sharif concealed the assets of his dependents and the truth from the National Assembly. The bunch of petitions had also insisted that he is no longer eligible to hold office under Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution.
The larger five-member bench headed by Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali and comprising Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa, Justice Amir Hani Muslim, Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijazul Ahsan conducted the hearing in presence of several cabinet ministers, lawyers of petitioners, senior PTI leaders and media.
The apex court said it was ready to appoint a probe commission headed by a judge and armed with powers of the Supreme Court. It also ordered the government and petitioners to present their Terms of Reference (ToR) for the probe panel and will decide to harmonise the ToR if the parties cannot come up with the agreed set of ToR.
Before its adjournment till Thursday, the court also expressed willingness to hold hearings on a daily basis. However, it did not ban the protest by PTI to force Sharif to resign for a fair probe into the scandal, on Wednesday in Islamabad, though it advised the government and opposition to show restraint.
Reacting to the court's ruling, PTI chief Khan said the planned anti-government rally will now be marked as a day of thanksgiving in Islamabad. Addressing a press conference outside Bani Gala, Khan thanked those who were part of his struggle against corruption. "I am elated that the investigation into Nawaz Sharif's (alleged corruption) will begin day after tomorrow," he said. "Go home and rest," Khan told supporters, "You have to return to Islamabad tomorrow to celebrate thanksgiving at Parade Ground."
Meanwhile, the government has taken elaborate measures to foil the protest and any effort to lock down the capital as PTI chief Khan has threatened in several speeches. All entry points to the capital are being monitored and scores of PTI workers have been arrested. Khan, himself was under virtual house arrest with a heavy contingent of police surrounding his house in Bani Gala, a leafy suburb of Islamabad, preventing him from leaving — though he has not been formally arrested.
The PTI is in power in KP and hopes for a major influx of youth from the province to boost the strength of the protest. On Monday night a major rally led by the chief minister of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa was teargassed and forced to return. Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the Vice Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), claimed that the authorities have cut off Khyber Pakhtunkhwa from Punjab.
In Punjab, which is controlled by Sharif's ruling PML-N, hundreds have been arrested. Official sources said close to 2,000 people were arrested for maintaining law and order. But PTI claims that thousands of its workers were arrested. The party has also urged the court to take suo moto action against arrests by the government.
With inputs from PTI and IANS