Pak court orders further probe against Sharif

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Court ruling takes immediate pressure off Pakistan leader; says investigative report must come in 60 days

Pakistan’s top court ordered further investigation into corruption charges against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, for now taking off immediate pressure and the prospect of a potential disqualification as his government continues efforts to boost an economy hit for years by power outages and terrorism.

In a three-two split decision by the five-member bench, the Supreme Court ordered a “joint investigation team” to probe allegations that Sharif and his children brought foreign assets illegally, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, said in Islamabad, the capital, on Thursday. The investigative unit should submit its report within 60 days, he said.

“A special bench will be constituted to look into the matter after the final report and whether the prime minister’s disqualification can be considered,” Khosa said.

Making his verdict as hundreds of riot police and paramilitary troops were deployed within a five kilometer (3.1 mile) radius of the court, Khosa concluded the hearing of petitions by opposition leader and former cricket star, Imran Khan, who brought the case against Sharif and his family. Immediately after the ruling the nation’s benchmark stock index advanced 3.9 per cent, the largest jump in more than two years, before paring gains to 2.2 per cent.

‘Cool Down’

The court took up the case in November following a report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists showed his three children either owned or have signing rights to authorize transactions of four offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands. Those holdings were alleged to have been used to make property purchases in London. Sharif’s political opponents doubted the premier’s family made assets outside Pakistan through legal means.

The decision eases an immediate political crisis caused by opposition demands for Sharif to resign. After the release of the report based on leaked documents of Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonsecca in April, Sharif had pledged to step down if charges were proved.

The court decision will “temporarily cool down opponents, but they won’t sit idle,” said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Lahore-based political analyst.

Pakistan, a Muslim-majority nuclear-armed state has been ruled by its powerful military for much of its history after independence in 1947 and its politicians have long faced accusations of corruption which often resulted into their detentions and ousting from power. The country ranks at 116 out of 176 countries in Transparency International’s 2016 corruption perception index.

Maryam Sharif, the daughter of the prime minister who was implicated in the corruption hearing, posted photos on Twitter of her father and family celebrating after the court decision and said the ruling was a “defeat of petitioners.” She is widely seen as a potential heir to the family political dynasty. Khan and his party didn’t release any immediate comment.

Relative Prosperity

“The law and constitution have prevailed and those using the back door to get to corridors of power have failed,” Ahsan Iqbal, the minister for planning and development, told reporters outside the court.

Sharif has ushered in relative prosperity in Pakistan with the help of an International Monetary Fund’s loan program that averted balance-of-payment crisis in 2013. The economy will continue to expand by 5.2 per cent in 2017, according to a survey by Bloomberg News this month.

Pakistan’s stock market was the best performer in Asia last year and China is investing more than $50 billion in loans and funds to revamp the country’s decrepit infrastructure.

Despite the market rally and court decision, “pressure will stay on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif with the joint investigation team now,” Rashid Ahmed Khan, a visiting professor at the University of Punjab, said by phone from Lahore.

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