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Panama Papers leak sparked probe that led to Pakistan leader's resignation

Posted July 28

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif resigned Friday after he was disqualified from office by the country's Supreme Court.

The court ruled Sharif has been dishonest to parliament and to the judicial system, and is no longer deemed fit for the office of prime minister.

The panel of five judges announced their unanimous decision Friday afternoon, with the election commission ordered to issue a disqualification notice to Sharif. With the ruling, Sharif's cabinet has also been dissolved.

Silence enveloped the courtroom as Justice Ejaz Afzal read out the judgment, and the opposition distributed candy following the verdict in celebration.

"Nawaz Sharif will accept the decision of the Supreme Court," Sharif's PMLN party said in a statement following the verdict.

"There has been an injustice against us. Nawaz Sharif will step down as premier of Pakistan despite reservations regarding the verdict."

He is expected to vacate the prime minister's residence by Friday evening.

Corruption probe

The panel had been investigating Sharif's alleged links to offshore accounts and overseas properties owned by three of his children.

The assets, which were not declared on the family's wealth statement, were revealed in the massive Panama Papers leak in April 2016.

Although Nawaz Sharif was not named in the Panama Papers, a joint investigation committee formed by the Supreme Court in April 2017 concluded in mid-July that their investigation revealed incriminating documents that pointed to prime minister and his family's corruption.

Investigators found that Sharif held a work permit for the United Arab Emirates for a previously undisclosed company, a violation of the country's constitution, according to the judgment.

The Panama Papers leak sparked mass protests in Pakistan and calls from opposition political groups for a panel to investigate Sharif and his children over their alleged offshore accounts.

Former cricket star Imran Khan, leader of the opposition PTI party, lobbied vigorously for Sharif's investigation and described the court's decision Friday as a "victory for the people."

"Nations are not destroyed by wars, bombs or natural disasters. They are destroyed when their institutions have been destroyed," he said. "This is the beginning. Now all of us have to protect our resources and not let the corrupt exploit them."

Looming election

General elections are scheduled to be held next April, which the PMLN is widely expected to win, despite today's ruling.

With the disqualification, Sharif cannot hold any parliamentary position, cannot become involved in election campaigns nor lead his party.

Friday's verdict is the second Supreme Court ruling this year on Sharif. In April a five-judge panel formed by Pakistan's Supreme Court delivered a ruling ordering a new investigation over corruption allegations.

This is the first time in the country's history that a leader has been disqualified from office following a judicial process.

But no civilian prime minister has ever completed a full term in Pakistan.

"Another elected Prime Minister sent home, but only to see him return with greater force & support & soonest Insha'Allah," tweeted Sharif's daughter Maryam, who many believed was being groomed to take the reins from her father.

During Sharif's time in office there's been economic growth, a marked drop in terrorism and a bold foreign policy initiative which has led to strong ties with neighboring China and the formation of the strategically important China Pakistan Economic Corridor.

Political heavyweight

Known as the "Lion of Punjab," the 68-year-old Sharif is one of Pakistan's leading industrialists and richest men, as well as being a fearsome political operative -- having served as prime minister twice before.

But his long political career has been dogged with missteps and allegations of corruption, which already forced him to step down during his first time as prime minister, cutting his first term short after his family-owned business, Ittefaq Industries, was seen to grow tremendously during his tenure in office.

Sharif was re-elected in 1997 and ordered Pakistan's first nuclear tests, but a showdown with the nation's powerful military saw his second term end prematurely as well.

In 1999, Sharif fired then-army head Pervez Musharraf after a failed invasion of Kargil, in Indian-held Kashmir. But in a dramatic turnaround, Musharraf launched a coup and eventually had his former boss imprisoned on charges of hijacking for attempting to stop a plane carrying the general from landing.

Sharif was later sentenced to an additional 14 years in prison on corruption charges, but was released after six months when Riyadh brokered a deal to allow him to go into exile in Saudi Arabia.

In 2007, Sharif returned to his homeland after his Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) party teamed up with the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) to force Musharraf out of office.

After some legal and constitutional wrangling Sharif was re-elected prime minister for a third time in 2013 amid accusations of vote-rigging.

In an interview with India's CNN News 18 on Friday, Musharraf praised the court's decision and said he believed Sharif's political career was finished.

"It is finished in the minds and hearts of the people of Pakistan. It should have been finished much before but anyway, better late than never," he said.

From Panama to Pakistan

The latest and final nail in Sharif's political coffin is not of his own making, but rather the financial improprieties of his children.

While owning property in itself is not illegal, opposition parties have questioned if the money to buy them came from public funds.

And while Sharif was not personally named, his three adult children were linked to offshore companies that owned the London properties. One British Virgin Islands holding firm listed his daughter, Maryam as the sole shareholder.

A taskforce called the Joint Investigation Team was created in April by the Supreme Court since it was unable to independently determine the links to corruption. At the time Sharif pledged that if anything from the investigation proved corruption, he would step down.

Last November, Maryam tweeted images of a disclosure form claiming she was not the owner of the London property. However, the document, dated 2006, used a font -- Calibri -- that did not become widely available until the following year.

Maryam Sharif has denied any wrongdoing.

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