Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Friday finished hearing arguments on a scathing corruption report into the family wealth of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and will begin deliberating whether to disqualify the premier. The court is expected to make a decision in a week or two, with analysts split on whether it will dismiss Sharif outright or recommend a fresh investigation and corruption trial by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
Few expect the judges to drop the case, since the Supreme Court appointed the investigatory panel that alleged the Sharif family’s wealth was beyond its means. It further accused his children, including presumed heir Maryam, of signing forged documents to hide ownership of posh London flats.
Sharif has denied wrongdoing and slammed the 254-page report by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) as biased and slanderous. He has also rejected opposition demands to stand down. Sharif’s lawyers have been arguing that the JIT overstepped its remit, and disputed its findings. Ejaz Afzal Khan, who heads the three-judge Supreme Court panel hearing Sharif’s case, on Friday announced the hearings had been concluded by saying: “Judgement reserved”. Khan did not say when the Supreme Court would announce its decision, however.
Opposition parties believe Sharif is wobbling and expect the Supreme Court to deliver a knockout blow to his premiership by employing a little-used constitutional provision to dismiss a sitting official. “From our legal perspective it’s crystal clear: he can’t survive this,” said Shafqat Mahmood, a lawmaker and senior official with the opposition PTI party. Sharif’s allies interpret the court’s decision not to summon him as indicating that it will order a NAB investigation. Such an outcome would be seen as something of a victory by the ruling PML-N party because it would probably allow Sharif to finish his term and even contest the next polls in 2018.
Sharif has faced numerous investigations since he served his first two terms in the 1990s and now has many pending NAB cases. Both those terms were cut short, and he spent a long time in exile after being deposed in a military coup in 1999. Sharif, son of an industrialist, has denied all the claims against him and his supporters say he has never been convicted of anything despite facing unprecedented scrutiny during three stints in power.
Sharif has talked of a conspiracy against him, but has not named anyone. Privately, however, his allies say elements of the military and the judiciary are bent on toppling him. Last week, the army spokesman brushed aside suggestions that the military was the hidden hand behind the investigation. Opposition politicians say Sharif is concocting conspiracy claims to save himself, and argue that if he really wanted to protect democracy he would step down.