Panama Papers: Nawaz Sharif's fate hangs in balance; snap polls or new PM for Pakistan in the offing?

Editor's Note: The political future of Pakistan's embattled prime minister Nawaz Sharif will be decided on Friday by the country's Supreme Court when it announces its verdict in the Panama Papers case in which he and his family are accused of corruption. This article, that was originally published on 12 July, is being republished in view of the impending judgment.

In what may be a major blow to Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif, the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), which was formed in April this year to probe Sharif family's involvement in money laundering, on Monday recommended filing of a corruption case against him and his children after finding "significant" disparities in their income and actual wealth.

The investigation team also accused Sharif's daughter Maryam of presenting fake documents to the probe team, which it said, is a criminal offence.

According to the team, Maryam Nawaz, her brothers Hussain and Hassan Nawaz as well as her husband Captain Mohammad Safdar (Retd), had signed false documents to mislead the Supreme Court.

The six-member JIT also recommended that the family be tried under Pakistan's National Accountability Bureau (NAB) ordinance 1999.

 Panama Papers: Nawaz Sharifs fate hangs in balance; snap polls or new PM for Pakistan in the offing?

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. AFP

The JIT report said the assets of all four respondents were found to be more than the sources of their income.

"Significant gap/disparity amongst the known and declared sources of income and the wealth accumulated by the Sharif family have been observed," the JIT observed in its concluding remarks.

The report said the financial structure and health of companies in Pakistan having linkages to the Sharif family also do no substantiate their wealth.

Sharif government was quick to slam the probe report. Sharif's close aide and minister for development Ahsan Iqbal in press conference with other ministers, said they will challenge the report in the Supreme Court and will "completely expose and unveil its contradictions and falsifications".

Maryam took to Twitter to reject the report.

What next for Nawaz Sharif?

With the Supreme Court to now decide whether to proceed for a trial, based on the evicence provided by the investigating team, Sharif's fate hangs in balance. Sources told News18 that the Sharif family is expected to fight the charges. The report also added that there has been friction between the probe team and the Sharif government, with the JIT blaming the government of obstructing the probe.

The report added that one of the biggest evidences against the Sharif's family is a letter by a Qatari royal Hamad Bin Jasim Jaber Al Thani which can damage him politically. In the letter, the prince admitted that many of the properties under scanner were bought through liquidating those companies where he and Sharif were partners.

"After this JIT report, the prime minister’s position has weakened and becomes unpredictable. He may have to leave," Talat Masood, a political analyst, told Reuters.

What is the prime minister doing to counter the charges?

After the verdict, Sharif consulted senior party leaders and loyalists to formulate a policy to deal with the legal and political consequences of high-level inquiry report against him.

Sharif called his younger brother and Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif from Lahore who was part of a meeting attended by defence minister Khawaja Asif, railways minister Khawaja Saad Rafiq, interior minister Nisar Ali Khan, minister of planning and development Ahsan Iqbal and minister of petroleum Khaqan Abbasi and members of his legal team.

The role of the Pakistan Army

The Pakistan army has not officially reacted so far. During the course of the investigation as well, the army has refused to take a stand. However, a Dawn report pointed out that the army is keeping a close watch over the developments. An ISPR statement said:

"The forum reiterated to continue supporting and enabling national efforts to play positive role in line with Pakistan’s national interests. Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa presided over the meeting."

While the statement does not talk of the ongoing crisis in direct terms, the report added that the timing of the meeting itself pointed out to army's keen interest in directing the political course of the country.

If at all the Pakistan Army enters into the picture, then it will be for the second time after 1993, when the army intervened to force president Ghulam Ishaq Khan as well as then Sharif to resign over corruption charges.

Notably, the army may even invoke the "Doctrine of Necessity" to take over the reins.

The Doctrine of Necessity is an idea unique to Pakistan, which justified the take over of "extra-constitutional powers" to stabilise the country. Often, the military has used this idea to justify its takeover of the country.

Snap polls or a new prime minister?

An editorial in the Dawn urged Sharif to resign during the length of the investigation and appoint a new caretaker prime minister. The editorial argued that if there is a mid-term election without Sharif being the prime minister, it will greatly help the embattled PML(N) leader to improve his image and dismiss questions of his interference in the JIT investigation.

The idea of installing a new prime minister was in the offing even in April, when the Pakistan supreme court ordered the probe against Sharif. Back then, the names of Ghulam Ishaq Dar and Shahbaz Sharif were doing the rounds. It is to be noted that the term of the current parliament ends in May 2018.

The Panama papers controversy erupted last year, wherein 11.5 million secret documents from Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca documented the offshore dealings of many of the world's rich and powerful. Among the global elite implicated were three of Sharif's four children — his daughter and presumptive political heir Maryam, and his sons Hasan and Hussein.

At the heart of the matter is the legitimacy of the funds used by the Sharif family to purchase several high-end London properties via offshore companies. The government insists the wealth was acquired legally through family businesses in Pakistan and the Gulf.

With inputs from PTI

Updated Date: Jul 28, 2017 11:51:52 IST

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