Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was given a two-month reprieve on Thursday as Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered further investigations into corruption allegations against him, saying there wasn’t enough evidence to order his removal.
Sharif had a narrow escape after a split decision by the five-member bench of the Supreme Court, with two judges recommending that the premier be told to step down.
The bench ordered the setting up of a joint investigation team (JIT) within a week to probe allegations linked to the Panama Papers leaks. Three judges ruled in favour of the JIT, which was directed to complete its probe in two months.
The Supreme Court also ordered Sharif, 67, and his two sons, Hasan and Hussain, to appear before the JIT.
“A thorough investigation is required,” Justice Asif Saeed Khosa said, announcing the highly anticipated ruling following a months-long hearing stemming from the Panama Papers leaks last year that linked Sharif’s family to offshore assets.
Khawaja Saad Rafiq, a senior leader of Sharif’s PML-N party, said the judgement was an endorsement of the government.
“Nawaz Sharif will be the prime minister as we go into the 2018 elections,” Rafiq said. He noted that a JIT was proposed by the prime minister himself some months ago.
Another senior PML-N leader, Ahsan Iqbal, said Sharif will present himself, as and when required, before the JIT, which will comprise officials from the Federal Investigation Agency, National Accountability Bureau, Security and Exchange Commission of Pakistan and Military Intelligence.
The Supreme Court launched an investigation into the Sharif family’s offshore wealth last year after opposition parties threatened to launch street protests. The opposition accuses Sharif of failing to explain the source of money in offshore companies owned by his children and of lying to Parliament.
Sharif and his family have denied wrongdoing.
The case was launched on November 3 and the court held 35 hearings before concluding proceedings on February 23.
Details of the Sharif family’s offshore assets surfaced when papers from the Panama-based law firm of Mossack Fonseca were leaked last year. The assets, mostly in London, were managed through offshore companies owned by Sharif’s children.
The Supreme Court took up the matter after several petitions were filed by the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan and others.