Pakistan braces for Supreme Court decision on ‘Panamagate’

MAMOSA Report — A looming Supreme Court decision that could disqualify Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif over corruption allegations had the country on edge yesterday, as a drawn-out investigation related to the “Panama Papers” leaks neared a conclusion.

Disqualifying Sharif would leave his party in power, but it would cause intense turmoil at a time when Pakistan is experiencing modest growth and improved security after years of violence, and the civilian government and powerful military have appeared to come to uneasy terms.

Sharif has denied any wrongdoing, but the Supreme Court agreed to investigate his family’s offshore wealth late last year after opposition leader Imran Khan threatened street protests.

Khan alleges that Sharif established the assets through tax evasion, money-laundering and corruption during his previous two stints as prime minister of Pakistan in the 1990s.

“It is a defining moment in the history of Pakistan because this verdict will change the way the ruling elite govern in Pakistan,” Khan told a public gathering in Islamabad ahead of Thursday’s court decision. He said that the judicial system in the past “unfortunately” had always sided with the powerful in the country.

“What should happen first time in our history is that a powerful person in Pakistan should be convicted of corruption and money laundering,” Khan said when asked about the coming court ruling.

The Supreme Court could take a range of steps — it is one of the most controversial and significant cases in Pakistan’s judicial and political history.

It could clear the prime minister, or order a further judicial commission of inquiry or even declare him ineligible to hold office, as it did in 2012 with then-Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani over a contempt of court case.

Pakistani stocks fell 1.5% in early trade after the news overnight that a decision would be announced today.

The benchmark KSE 100 later rebounded and closed up 1.6%. Both the government and opposition expressed confidence yesterday.

“There is no chance that decision will come against our leadership. Our government and entire leadership are performing their duties as per routine,” Talal Chaudhry a prominent leader of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz told Geo Television.

Naeem ul Haque, a spokesman for Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) said he expected a verdict against Sharif, but he made clear the opposition would not launch a new street movement if they were disappointed.

“Imran Khan has clearly stated that we will accept the decision of the Supreme Court, but we believe that enough evidence has been presented to remove the prime minister and that a verdict should be reached that is based on the evidence,” he said.

In 2014, Khan led a months-long protest that paralyzed the government quarter in the capital, Islamabad, after rejecting Sharif’s decisive election win a year earlier.

The case stems from documents leaked from the Panama-based Mossack Fonseca law firm appeared to show that Sharif’s daughter and two sons owned offshore holding companies registered in the British Virgin Islands and used them to buy properties in London.

Sharif told parliament last year that his family wealth was acquired legally in the decades before he entered politics and that no money was siphoned off-shore.

Khan, however, has argued that the prime minister’s lawyers have changed stories on the source of the offshore money several times and that it is up to Sharif to prove the offshore companies were not used for money laundering.

Corruption is endemic in Pakistan, which ranks a dismal 116th out of 176 in Transparency International’s annual index of the world’s most graft-ridden countries.

Government ministers and Sharif’s ruling party aides appeared confident, however, that the verdict will be in favor of the prime minister.

Federal Information Minster Marriyam Aurengzeb told reporters the court decision will bring an end to “all rumor-mongering and speculation.” She said those leveling “false accusations” against Sharif would get nothing.

Pakistani political circles and media are rife with speculation about possible outcomes after the Supreme Court announced on Tuesday it would hand down the verdict on Thursday.

Leaders of mainstream Pakistani political parties have converged on Islamabad and are holding internal meetings to discuss future plans if the Supreme Court verdict leads to the disqualification of Prime Minister Sharif.

A five-member larger bench, headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa, and comprising Justices Ijaz Afzal Khan, Gulzar Ahmad, Shaikh Azmat Saeed and Ijazul Ahsen heard the case on daily basis and reserved its judgment on February 23.

“The court will announce its verdict in accordance with the law and the Constitution,” Justice Khosa had remarked.

Opposition hopes

Chief of Awami Muslim League (AML) party Shaikh Rasheed Ahmad said that the Panama case decision would help bring about the death of corruption in the country.

Senior Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Shah Mahmood Qureshi hoped the most important decision in Pakistan’s history will “benefit the country” and its people.

Jamaat-e-Islami chief Siraj-ul-Haq said the decision should help end corruption in Pakistan.

Geo News reports that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has announced to hold a public gathering immediately after the Supreme Court’s decision tomorrow irrespective of the verdict on Panama Leaks case.

The central leadership of the PTI met under party chief Imran Khan on Wednesday and discussed the party’s course of action following the Panama case verdict.

The party has decided that only the senior leadership of the party will appear before the Supreme Court to hear the decision and requested its workers to arrive at the Parade Ground rally.

In a related note, PPP has decided to form a grand opposition alliance after the verdict.

Geo News quoted sources saying that PPP co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari chairing a party meeting on Wednesday said that they don’t have high expectations from the verdict.

The sources said that PPP had decided to form a grand opposition alliance after the Panama verdict. Zardari said that the PPP would not take solo flight but take all the opposition parties into confidence after the Panama decision.

The former president said that a befitting response would also be given to the decision.

During the meeting, it was decided to launch a mass contact drive in the country while a formal approval was also given to start protests against load-shedding.

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