ISLAMABAD • Pakistan's top court yesterday ordered a further investigation into corruption charges against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, but ruled out a potential disqualification, taking pressure off the leader as he attempts to revive an economy battered by terrorism and power outages.
In a three-two split decision by the five-member bench, the Supreme Court ordered a "joint investigation team" to probe the allegations against Mr Sharif and his children, said Justice Asif Saeed Khosa in Islamabad yesterday. He added that the investigative unit should submit its report within 60 days.
Mr Sharif and his children deny any wrongdoing.
A verdict to remove Mr Sharif would have left his party in power, but would have sparked turmoil at a time of modest growth and improved security after years of violence in Pakistan. The civilian government and the military also appear to have come to uneasy terms.
The nation's benchmark stock index extended gains after the ruling, advancing 3.9 per cent, the largest jump in more than two years. Mr Sharif is seen as pro-business.
Police in riot gear surrounded the court in Islamabad as it delivered the verdict, while some protesters urged Mr Sharif to step down with shouts of "Go Nawaz, Go Nawaz".
The Supreme Court agreed last year to investigate the Sharif family's offshore wealth after opposition leader Imran Khan threatened street protests following the leak of the Panama Papers. After the release of the report based on leaked documents of Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca in April last year, Mr Sharif pledged to resign if the charges were proven to be true.
Judges took up applications in November after a report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists showed his three children either own or have signing rights to authorise transactions of four offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands. Those holdings were allegedly used to make property purchases in London.
Mr Sharif told Parliament last year that his family wealth was acquired legally in the decades before he entered politics and no money was siphoned offshore. But his opponents doubt his family created assets outside Pakistan via legal means.
Mr Khan's party said before the ruling that it would not launch a new street movement if it was disappointed by the judgment.
The decision eases an immediate political crisis caused by opposition demands for Mr Sharif to resign.
The court decision will "temporarily cool down opponents, but they won't sit idle", said Lahore-based political analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi.