Graft case top­ples Pak­istan’s pre­mier

Sharif re­signs af­ter na­tion’s Supreme Court or­ders him re­moved from of­fice

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - MU­NIR AHMED AND ZARAR KHAN

IS­LAM­ABAD — Pak­istan’s Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif stepped down Fri­day af­ter the Supreme Court or­dered him re­moved from of­fice over al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion.

The five-judge panel acted on pe­ti­tions filed by Sharif’s po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents al­leg­ing that he and his fam­ily failed to dis­close as­sets stem­ming from last year’s “Panama Pa­pers” leaks. The court or­dered that crim­i­nal charges be filed against Sharif and four rel­a­tives.

In a unan­i­mous de­ci­sion, the court said he had not been “truth­ful and hon­est” and dis­missed him from the Na­tional As­sem­bly, the lower house of Par­lia­ment.

Sharif im­me­di­ately re­signed in what he called a show of re­spect for the ju­di­ciary, even though he said the court’s de­ci­sion was un­jus­ti­fied.

The rul­ing threw Pak­istan, which is bat­tling at­tacks by Is­lamic mil­i­tants, into po­lit­i­cal dis­ar­ray and raised ques­tions about who will suc­ceed Sharif — and who is run­ning the coun­try at the mo­ment.

The court asked Pak­istan’s fig­ure­head Pres­i­dent Mam­noon Hus­sain to “en­sure con­tin­u­a­tion of the demo­cratic process.” He is ex­pected to con­vene the Na­tional As­sem­bly once Sharif’s rul­ing Pak­istan Mus­lim League party, which en­joys a com­fort­able ma­jor­ity, nom­i­nates a suc­ces­sor to serve as prime min­is­ter un­til gen­eral elec­tions are held in June 2018.

Sharif ’s po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents danced in the streets, and op­po­si­tion leader Im­ran Khan urged them to gather Sun­day in the cap­i­tal of Is­lam­abad to cel­e­brate their le­gal vic­tory against the “cor­rupt rul­ing elite.”

Khan, a for­mer cricket star, de­scribed the dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion as a “good omen” for Pak­istan. He said at a news con­fer­ence that he hopes all those who “looted” the na­tion’s wealth would face a sim­i­lar fate.

Sharif’s party ex­pressed its dis­ap­point­ment and urged sup­port­ers to keep calm and avoid con­fronta­tions.

“This de­ci­sion is not sur­pris­ing, but we are dis­ap­pointed,” In­for­ma­tion Min­is­ter Maryam Au­rangzeb told reporters.

The 67-year- old Sharif, who has served three sep­a­rate stints as prime min­is­ter, has a his­tory of rocky re­la­tions with Pak­istan’s mil­i­tary, the coun­try’s most pow­er­ful in­sti­tu­tion. He was first dis­missed from power by the army’s hand-picked pres­i­dent in 1993 about mid­way through his five-year term. In 1999, mil­i­tary leader Gen. Pervez Mushar­raf over­threw Sharif in a blood­less coup and ex­iled him to Saudi Ara­bia.

Sharif’s sup­port­ers sug­gested the mil­i­tary ap­plauded the court de­ci­sion be­cause it viewed him as an up­start who sought to chal­lenge its au­thor­ity.

The mil­i­tary has ruled Pak­istan for more than half of its 70-year his­tory and has been un­will­ing to see its in­flu­ence chal­lenged.

Sharif’s re­la­tions with the mil­i­tary reached a new low in re­cent months af­ter a re­spected English-lan­guage news­pa­per pub­lished a front-page ar­ti­cle claim­ing a rift be­tween civil­ian and mil­i­tary lead­ers over fight­ing mil­i­tancy. The army sus­pected that Sharif’s govern­ment leaked the story and tweeted its dis­sat­is­fac­tion with his at­tempts to make amends by fir­ing a govern­ment min­is­ter sus­pected of links to the re­porter.

Po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Me­hdi Has­san said the army may not have played a di­rect role in Sharif’s dis­missal but that rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the pow­er­ful In­ter-Ser­vices In­tel­li­gence and Mil­i­tary In­tel­li­gence on the court-ap­pointed in­ves­ti­ga­tion team may have con­trib­uted to the fi­nal de­ci­sion.

Sharif ’s po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents, many of whom have ques­tion­able records con­cern­ing cor­rup­tion, saw the de­ci­sion as a vin­di­ca­tion of their month­s­long bat­tle and proof that even the po­lit­i­cally pow­er­ful can be held ac­count­able.

The court or­dered that crim­i­nal charges be filed against Sharif, his two sons, his son-in-law and his daugh­ter, Maryam Nawaz. It said the charges must be brought within six weeks and de­cided within six months.

The case dates back to doc­u­ment dis­clo­sures in 2016, when files leaked from a Panama-based law firm in­di­cated that Sharif’s sons owned sev­eral off­shore com­pa­nies.

Sharif ’ s son Hus­sain Nawaz at the time ac­knowl­edged own­ing off­shore com­pa­nies but in­sisted they used legally ac­quired funds to set up busi­nesses abroad.

The court-ap­pointed in­ves­ti­ga­tors this month con­cluded, how­ever, that a sig­nif­i­cant dis­par­ity ex­isted be­tween the Sharif fam­ily’s de­clared wealth and its known sources of in­come.

Maryam Nawaz tweeted that her fa­ther would “re­turn with greater force,” and she asked her party to “stay strong.”

The court on Fri­day also or­dered Pak­istan’s anti-cor­rup­tion body to file cor­rup­tion charges against Fi­nance Min­is­ter Ishaq Dar, a close rel­a­tive of Sharif’s.

Hash­mat Habib, a le­gal ex­pert, said the court’s or­der was fi­nal and that Sharif and his fam­ily could not ap­peal.

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