Pakistan braces for Panama Papers verdict on PM Nawaz Sharif

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Nawaz SharifImage source, AFP

Pakistan is bracing itself for a landmark court verdict that could see Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif forced to resign over corruption allegations.

It follows an investigation into his family's wealth after the 2015 Panama Papers dump linked Mr Sharif's children to offshore companies.

Mr Sharif denies any wrongdoing, but the case has exposed a divided nation.

The Supreme Court will decide if the case is to be dismissed, sent to trial or if he should simply be disqualified.

No civilian prime minister of Pakistan has ever completed a five-year term.

Mr Sharif, who is currently serving as prime minister for a record third time, is less than a year away from becoming the first to complete a full term in office.

What is the atmosphere in Pakistan right now?

This ruling represents the peak of a drama that has fuelled frenzied news coverage and heated social media debates for months, attracting both scorn and ridicule as well as trenchant support for the prime minister.

The divisions fall largely along party lines but amid the febrile accusations, many have also expressed concerns over Pakistan's political culture.

The Wikipedia profile of the prime minister has been rewritten, dated late Thursday evening and littered with obscenities and accusations.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Maryam Sharif could do down with her father

What are the accusations all about?

A probe into Mr Sharif and his family began when leaked papers from a Panama-based law firm linked Mr Sharif's children to offshore companies used to buy several luxury central London flats.

The opposition was quick to accuse the prime minister of corruption and a subsequent special inquiry said his family had failed to account for the source of its financial assets.

The report caused an uproar in the country and opposition groups say his family is using its political influence to build up personal wealth. They have called on him to resign.

The prime minister - who himself is not named in the Panama Papers - denies all allegations and insists they are politically motivated. There were also questions over the make-up of the investigation team.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
The allegations against the PM led to large opposition protests

What are the Supreme Court's options?

Having considered the findings of the controversial investigation into the matter the court now has three options:

  • It finds there is not enough evidence to show the prime minister has been involved in any wrongdoing, and dismisses the case
  • It finds enough evidence to declare the prime minister dishonest and disqualifies him
  • It does not make a final decision but recommends a fresh investigation

What will happen next?

Analysts suggests that if the prime minister is found guilty he could nominate a close political ally - possibly his brother Shahbaz, who is chief minister of Punjab province - to his post so his government could see out its turn.

Should Mr Sharif be cleared though and stay in office, his acquittal would likely trigger widespread protests by his opponents.

The case also threatens the political future of the prime minister's daughter, Maryam Sharif, who has long been tipped as her father's successor in waiting, but who has been embroiled in the scandal.

A recent document supposed to absolve her of some of the allegations was allegedly dated from 2006 - yet then found to be written in computer font only commercially available the following year. Widespread ridicule of her case on social media was quick to follow.