The Telegraph
Friday , April 21 , 2017

Sharif survives ouster close call

Nawaz Sharif

Islamabad, April 20: Lady Luck smiled on Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif today when the Supreme Court stopped short of disqualifying him over corruption charges.

The Supreme Court ruled there was insufficient evidence to order Sharif's removal and ordered further investigations.

A verdict to dismiss Sharif would have left his party in power but would have sparked turmoil at a time when Pakistan is experiencing modest growth and improved security, and the civilian government and powerful military have appeared to come to uneasy terms.

Pakistan's stock market jumped after the ruling with the benchmark index gaining almost 2 per cent. Sharif is seen as pro-business.

Two of five judges on the court bench recommended that Sharif should step down but they were out voted.

The court ordered a joint investigation team to be set formed to look into allegations around three of Sharif's four children using offshore companies to buy properties in London.

The team has two months to complete its inquiry and its findings could yet weaken Sharif as he heads into a general election, due by May 2018. Sharif and his children deny any wrongdoing.

Some analysts believe the judgment actually is a blessing for Sharif as the documents available so far are not authentic or legal, leaving little room for the court to take decisive action.

Farogh Naseem, a Supreme Court lawyer and sitting senator, told Reuters after the ruling that Sharif could breathe easy, for now. "It was a close call for the Prime Minister," he said. "There is no clean chit for the prime minister, but for the time being he has been saved from being disqualified."

But Naseem said that with three of the institutions involved in the joint investigation under Sharif's control, a decision against him was unlikely.

For now, Sharif and his ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, are celebrating.

Sharif's daughter and his presumptive political heir, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, posted a photo on her Twitter account of the family welcoming the court's decision.

"We are ready for all kinds of investigation," Sharif's defence minister, Khawaja Asif, told reporters outside the court.

The Supreme Court agreed last year to investigate the Sharif family's offshore wealth after Opposition leader Imran Khan threatened street protests following the leak of the "Panama Papers".

Khan called on Sharif to step down until the investigation was completed. "The Prime Minister should immediately resign at least for the 60 days until JIT completes its work," Khan told reporters, referring to the joint investigation team.

"How can he continue as Prime Minister when he is being investigated? What moral grounds does he have to continue in office?"

Khan, who staged a sit-in for four months in Islamabad in 2014 to dislodge the Sharif government, claimed that on basis of the evidence presented before the court, Sharif was no longer eligible to remain the Prime Minister.

Khan and former President and co-chairman of Pakistan Peoples Party, Asif Zardari quickly rebutted claims that the judgment is a victory for Sharif, saying he had lost all moral ground and he should step down.

"Sharif is being termed a 'thief' by people on the streets and he has lost all moral ground to stay in power," Zardari told a crowded press conference in Islamabad.

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