ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Friday began announcing a new judgement that could topple Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who is embroiled in a long-running corruption case.
The legal proceedings against Sharif have captivated the country, where politicians are seldom subjected to the kind of scrutiny undergone by the premier.
PM Nawaz, 67, denied wrongdoing and had warned his ouster would destabilise Pakistan at a time when the economy was rebounding after a decade of political and security chaos.
The premier had alleged a conspiracy against him, although he had not named anyone. His allies, however, had privately spoken of elements in the judiciary and the military, with whom PM Nawaz has strained relations, acting against him. The army denied any involvement.
The Supreme Court started reading its verdict at 1130 local time. There was a heavy police and army presence around the court in the hours before the ruling.
“As long as the Supreme Court stays within the law, we feel very good and confident that nothing negative will happen to the prime minister,” Miftah Ismail, a state minister and senior official in Sharif’s ruling PML-N party, told Reuters.
“If the Supreme Court takes a flight away from strict interpretation of the law, then anything can happen.”
Some analysts said the court may also refer PM Nawaz to the electoral commission to see whether he is fit to stand again as premier. Several cabinet ministers, including PM Nawaz’s closest allies, said the ruling party would respect the SC verdict.
PM Nawaz, the son of an industrialist, saw both of his first two stints in power cut short in the 1990s, including by a military coup by General Pervez Musharraf in 1999.
“Panama Papers” fallout
The SC agreed last year to investigate the Sharif family’s wealth after the opposition threatened protests after the leaking of the “Panama Papers”, which revealed his family had bought posh London apartments through offshore companies.
The SC ruled in April there was insufficient evidence to remove Sharif from office – by a 2-3 verdict – but it ordered a probe by an investigative panel that included members of the military intelligence agencies.
The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) this month returned its findings in a 254-report that said Sharif’s family assets do not match their earnings. The panel also accused his children, including heir apparent Maryam, of signing forged documents to obscure ownership of the London flats.
They all deny wrongdoing.
Michael Kugelman, a South Asia specialist at the Woodrow Wilson Center, said PM Nawaz’s ouster would leave Pakistan in a “precarious” position but added that the country has a long history of dealing with such disqualifications. The SC in 2012 disqualified then-Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani over a contempt of court case.
“This wouldn’t exactly be uncharted territory for Pakistan, because we’ve seen this movie before,” he said.