Pakistan's Supreme Court pronounced its verdict on a much-anticipated case against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his children over corruption allegations on Thursday (20 April). The court has ordered further investigation into the Panama Papers scandal that the prime minister and his family are allegedly involved.
Although, the court has not given a clean chit to Sharif, the ruling is said to have come as a breather in the high-profile case as it had put the country on edge with reports that Sharif could either be ousted or be compelled to resign.
The Supreme Court ruled that it did not have sufficient evidence to oust the leader. Sharif's party has called the verdict a "victory".
The case centres on the so-called Panama Papers that were published last year, which referred to over 11 million secret documents of many of the world's rich and powerful from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. The documents claimed that Sharif and three of his four children "were owners or had the right to authorise transactions for several [offshore] companies".
Panama Paper leaks
The leaked documents alleged there were at least eight off shore companies having links to the Sharif family. At the centre of the issue was the legitimacy of the funds that the prime minister's family used to purchase some of its high-end properties in London via offshore companies, media reports said.
Those implicated in the allegations include Sharif's daughter Maryam, who is tipped as the prime minister's presumptive political heir, and his two sons. However, the prime minister denied any wrongdoings and said the claims could be politically motivated.
His case was brought to light after the Supreme Court agreed to investigate Sharif's offshore wealth based on several petitions by his opposition parties, including one by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf's chief and former cricketer Imran Khan.
The opposition threatened to hold rallies last year, forcing the top court to intervene.
Sharif defended himself in parliament last year saying the wealth his family possesses was acquired legally several years before he even ventured into politics.
Sharif survives ruling
A five-member bench handed down the highly-awaited ruling at 2pm local time (10am GMT). In a 3-2 split verdict, the judges have ordered further probe into the case, wherein a joint investigation team has to be set up and deliver its report in 60 days. Two of the judges wanted Sharif to step down.
Sharif and his family have to appear for investigation before the probe team once it is formed.
Sharif's party would have remained in power even if the verdict had ordered for the removal of the prime minister. However, the move would have resulted in much chaos in the country, especially at a time when Sharif's civilian government has quite not been on the same page with the country's powerful military in issues ranging from tackling cross-border terrorism to improving security after years of violence, and diplomatic tensions with neighbouring country India.
Security was beefed up outside the court in the capital, Islamabad as the verdict was being delivered. Some of the protesters opposing Sharif reportedly even chanted slogan "Go Nawaz, Go Nawaz".
'Victory' for Sharif's PML-N Party
Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) Party called the top court's order as "victory" for entire party.
PML-N chairman Raja Zafar-ul-Haq said that "Sharif will not step down pending this inquiry. There is nothing incriminating against the PM and the JIT [joint investigation team] will not find anything against him. PM Sharif had suggested that he is willing to be probed by a committee," News 18 reported.