Pakistani PM faces corruption probe
ISLAMABAD — The day before a major protest was planned against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Tuesday said a commission would investigate corruption allegations against the premier, whose children’s offshore financial holdings were listed in the leaked documents known as the Panama Papers.
The decision came seven months after the leaked documents from a Panamanian law firm appeared to show that three of Sharif’s children had companies in the British Virgin Islands through which they owned properties in London’s exclusive Hyde Park neighborhood.
Sharif was not named in the documents, but questions about his family’s finances have weakened his beleaguered government and sparked plans for an anti-government demonstration Wednesday in Islamabad.
Ahead of the gathering, Pakistani police arrested more than 1,000 supporters of Imran Khan, the protest leader and head of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, and sprayed tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators as they attempted to march toward the capital.
Following the Supreme Court announcement, Khan called off the protest and said he would hold a celebratory gathering instead at Islamabad’s main parade ground.
“Gohomeandrest,” Khan told his supporters. “You have to return to Islamabad tomorrow to celebrate thanksgiving.”
Khan’s party and other opposition groups have filed court petitions demanding an investigation into the corruption allegations against Sharif and his family. Sharif, whodenieswrongdoing, has also backed the establishment of a commission that he says will clear his name.
The Supreme Court ordered Khan’s party and the government to submit their comments on the formation of the commission and scheduled a hearing for Thursday.
Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali asked both parties during the hearing to “show restraint” because the Panama Papers controversy threatened to under- mine Pakistan’s stability.
“We have to save the country from unrest and crises,” Jamali said.
Sharif ’s daughter, Maryam Safdar, was triumphant about the cancellation of the protest, tweeting: “Another assault on the country comes to naught. I hope against hope that those beating a hasty retreat will learn from the embarrassment.”
Safdar, heir to the Sharif family’s political party, was named in the Panama Papers leaks as beneficial owner of two offshore companies that in turn owned apartments in London. The leaked documents came from a Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca, that purportedly helped hundreds of clients hide their wealth using offshore bank accounts and shell companies.
While owning property or other assets overseas is legal in Pakistan, the documents raised questions about whether the Sharif family — and other prominent Pakistanis namedinthe leaks — were using the undisclosed accounts to evade taxes or launder money.
Activists revel in action against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Tuesday in Islamabad.