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Arrest warrants for Pakistan ex-PM Nawaz Sharif: How Panama Papers brought him down

Nawaz Sharif is currently in London with his wife as she undergoes cancer treatment, and has not returned to Pakistan since he was indicted in the corruption allegations.

world Updated: Oct 26, 2017 11:36 IST
Pakistan's former prime minister Nawaz Sharif speaks during a news conference in Islamabad.
Pakistan's former prime minister Nawaz Sharif speaks during a news conference in Islamabad.(Reuters File Photo)

A Pakistani court issued arrest warrants for former prime minister Nawaz Sharif on Thursday in two corruption cases triggered by the Panama Papers leak.

Sharif was disqualified from office for life by the Supreme Court following an investigation into his family’s wealth, almost a year before his term was to end and ahead of the general elections scheduled in 2018.

The former Pakistan PM is currently in London with his wife as she undergoes cancer treatment, and has not returned to Pakistan since he was indicted in the corruption allegations earlier this month.

The verdict was handed down unanimously by a five-member bench in a case connected to allegations stemming from disclosures in the so-called Panama Papers last year that said his family’s wealth was more than his known sources of income. The top court also ordered criminal cases be opened against Sharif and his family.

Here’s a look at how the Panama Papers brought down Sharif:

What are the Panama Papers?

A major exposè in April 2016 sent shockwaves through the top offices of the nations named in the Panama Papers, triggering a series of probes across the globe.

The documents were leaked from Mossack Fonseca — a Panamanian law firm.

The people it allegedly exposed ranged from political leaders such as Sharif, Russian President Vladimir Putin, President of Argentina, Iceland’s Prime Minister and the King of Saudi Arabia as well as 500 Indians including Bollywood actors Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan.

The documents, from around 214,000 offshore entities covering almost 40 years, show how the company helped its clients launder money, dodge sanctions and evade tax.

Sharif family’s case

The leak linked Sharif’s family to lucrative offshore businesses. Three of Sharif’s four children — Maryam and his sons Hasan and Hussein — were implicated in the papers.

At the heart of the case is the legitimacy of the funds used by the Sharif family to purchase several high-end London properties via offshore companies.

The PML-N insists the wealth was acquired legally through Sharif family businesses in Pakistan and the Gulf.

Investigation

Pakistan’s top court took up the case in October 2016 on petitions filed by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Awami Muslim League and Jamaat-e-Islami and reserved the verdict in February after conducting hearings on a daily basis.

In April, the Supreme Court declared there was “insufficient evidence” to oust Sharif and set up a six-member team to probe the allegations. The investigation concluded a “significant disparity” existed between Sharif and family’s declared wealth and its known sources of income. The team submitted its report to the court on July 10.

It recommended the filing of a new corruption case against them.

The findings sparked an uproar, including the claim that documents regarding Maryam and her link to some of the family’s London properties were ‘falsified’— dated 2006, but typed in Microsoft’s Calibri font, which was not released for commercial use until 2007.

The Sharifs and their allies consistently rejected the claims against them, with his ruling PML-N party this month dismissing the investigation team’s report as “trash”.

Sharif and corruption

Sharif has been ousted over corruption allegations once before when he was sacked by the country’s then-president during the first of his three terms as prime minister in 1993.

There is a precedent for the Supreme Court to oust a sitting prime minister: In 2012 then-premier Yousaf Raza Gilani was disqualified over contempt of court charges for refusing to reopen a corruption case against president Asif Ali Zardari.

Sharif has never completed a term as a prime minister, having been removed in his second term by a military coup in 1999.