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How Panama Papers brought down Nawaz Sharif

Pakistan Supreme Court unanimously disqualified Nawaz Sharif for life from the post of prime minister.

world Updated: Jul 28, 2017 15:07 IST
Nawaz Sharif,Pakistan,Supreme Court
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif with his son Hussain Nawaz, right, outside the premises of the Joint Investigation Team, in Islamabad, Pakistan on June 15, 2017. (AP File Photo)

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Friday became the second world leader to be affected by the Panama Papers leak, after Iceland’s prime minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson stepped down last year over charges of graft.

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 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:

Men look at a television screen displaying the coverage of Pakistan's Supreme Court's decision on disqualifying Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, at a barber shop in Karachi, Pakistan July 28, 2017. ( Reuters )

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 leak was the result of an effort of over 100 media groups, who published an extensive report of probe into dubious offshore financial deals of prominent people across the globe who used tax havens to hide their wealth.

The documents were leaked from Mossack Fonseca — a Panamanian law firm — by an anonymous source to German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung, who then shared it with media worldwide by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

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.


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.

First Published: Jul 28, 2017 14:54 IST