Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has stepped down after the Supreme Court disqualified him from office as leader of the country’s government.

Friday’s landmark ruling comes after months of hearings in a case instigated by the “Panama Papers” leaks, related to alleged corruption during his previous two terms in office.

A five-member bench of the Supreme Court announced the verdict to a packed courtroom in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

Sharif’s ouster, on grounds that he lied about his assets during a corruption probe, means that his ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, which holds a comfortable majority in parliament, will have to nominate a new leader of the government in his absence.

The government could also call snap polls, although a general election is due by early August next year. 

According to a statement from the prime minister’s office, Sharif stood down from his post in accordance with the Supreme Court ruling shortly after it was announced.

“Immediately following the [Supreme Court’s] verdict, Muhammad Nawaz Sharif has stood down as prime minister,” said the statement. “All legal and constitutional options will be exercised regarding our serious differences with this verdict.”

The court also disqualified Ishaq Dar, finance minister and Sharif’s former accountant, state-run PTV reported.

Dar had submitted documents to the Supreme Court about how the Sharif family had obtained their wealth.

Opponents of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif shout slogans as they exit the Supreme Court in Islamabad [Caren Firouz/Reuters]

The 67-year-old becomes the latest Pakistani prime minister not to have completed a five-year term in office, many having been ousted in coups by the country’s powerful military, which has ruled the country for roughly half of its 69-year-history.

Sharif and three of his children have been referred to a National Accountability court, which has been ordered to register a corruption cases against them within six weeks, the judges said.

‘True accountability’

Security was tight outside the Supreme Court on Friday, with scores of riot police and paramilitary personnel deployed to secure the building.

Speaking ahead of the verdict, Siraj-ul-Haq, the leader of the opposition Jamaat-e-Islami party and one of the plaintiffs in the case, said he hoped the decision would help strengthen rule of law in the country.

“From the start, I have been supporting the view that … true accountability is necessary for true democracy,” he told reporters outside the courtroom. “The law seems to not have been applied to the rich, but only to the poor.”

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The case against Sharif has also been championed by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.

“After today’s verdict, the responsibility for which direction we take lies with the parliament … we believe that at this delicate moment, all patriotic Pakistani political parties need to unite,” said Naeem-ul-Haque, a spokesman for Khan.

Sharif’s supporters, meanwhile, had been defiant ahead of the announcement.

“The PML-N will fight every crisis, attack and conspiracy with wisdom, courage, integrity and honour,” said Khawaja Saad Rafique, the federal railways minister.

Money trail  

The allegations against Sharif have centred around the ownership of four apartments in London’s posh Park Lane neighbourhood.

In 2016, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists leaked 11.5 million documents from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, dubbed the “Panama Papers”.

Several documents were included in the leak that showed that three of Sharif’s children – Hussain, Hasan and Maryam – owned at least three off-shore companies registered in the British Virgin Islands.

The documents showed that these companies had engaged in deals worth $25m.

Crucially, one of the documents also showed that the companies had been involved in a $13.2m mortgage involving the London properties as collateral, the first time that the Sharif family’s ownership of the apartments was proven on paper.

 

In November, after months of political turmoil, the Supreme Court began hearings in a case seeking to establish whether the Sharif family had committed any wrongdoing in obtaining the properties, or if the prime minister was liable for not declaring them earlier on tax and parliamentary wealth declarations.

Sharif denied wrongdoing, saying the assets were legally held by his children and were not in his name, and therefore he was not liable to declare them or be taxed on them.

The court demanded that the Sharif family establish a clear money trail showing how they came to own the properties.

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According to the Sharifs, the money was obtained from the sale of a steel mill in the United Arab Emirates, and was further invested with Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al Thani, a Qatari royal and former prime minister of the peninsula.

Not satisfied with the explanation, the court in April constituted a high-level team to investigate the Sharifs.

The investigating team found that Sharif had for years been the chairman of the board of Capital FZE, a company based in the United Arab Emirates, without declaring his position.

The court’s decision to oust Sharif was based on him not revealing a stake in the company in parliamentary wealth disclosures.

No democratically elected prime minister in Pakistan’s history has completed a full five-year term.

Sharif’s first two stints in power in the 1990s were both cut short; a military coup by General Pervez Musharraf unseated him in 1999.

Other prime ministers have been ousted in two previous coups in 1958 and 1977, by the courts or by motions of no-confidence within the parliament.

Follow Asad Hashim on Twitter: @AsadHashim

Source: Al Jazeera News

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