Pak­istani PM faces cor­rup­tion probe

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND WORLD - By Shashank Bengali and Aoun Sahi

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.

ASIF HAS­SAN/GETTY-AFP

Ac­tivists revel in ac­tion against Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif on Tues­day in Is­lam­abad.

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