Opposition elated over graft case that may oust Pakistan premier

Opposition leader Imran Khan (above) leaving the Supreme Court in Islamabad in May after attending a hearing on the so-called Panama Papers case involving allegations of corruption against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (left).
Opposition leader Imran Khan (above) leaving the Supreme Court in Islamabad in May after attending a hearing on the so-called Panama Papers case involving allegations of corruption against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Opposition leader Imran Khan (above) leaving the Supreme Court in Islamabad in May after attending a hearing on the so-called Panama Papers case involving allegations of corruption against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (left).
Opposition leader Imran Khan leaving the Supreme Court in Islamabad in May after attending a hearing on the so-called Panama Papers case involving allegations of corruption against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (above).PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ISLAMABAD • Mr Imran Khan, the Pakistani cricket star turned politician, believes his moment of political triumph has finally arrived.

Today, the country's Supreme Court will begin a series of hearings in a highly anticipated corruption case that could result in the removal of Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif from office.

"I think he is gone," Mr Khan said of his bitter political rival.

"The long, dark night is finally over," he added.

However, a top aide to the Prime Minister said that a verdict resulting in such a removal would be "a judicial coup".

For more than a year, Mr Sharif has been mired in a bruising controversy over revelations that his family owns expensive residential properties in London through offshore companies.

The information, which first surfaced last year in the leaked Panama Papers, was vehemently denied by Mr Sharif.

Mr Khan has pestered Mr Sharif and his family to provide paper trails for the purchase of the apartments. "Show the receipts" is a common slogan used by Mr Khan's supporters and party workers.

The controversy has been a godsend for Mr Khan, the opposition leader, who has relentlessly campaigned against Mr Sharif ever since he took office in 2013. He has been on a personal crusade to remove the premier from office.

Mr Khan led street protests last year that resulted in the Supreme Court hearing petitions regarding Mr Sharif's offshore wealth.

In April this year, a five-member bench of the court decided that Mr Sharif could remain in office, but ordered an investigation into the allegations. Two dissenting judges, however, recommended Mr Sharif's disqualification, with one justice equating Mr Sharif to a "godfather" of an Italian-style Mafia.

The team of investigators, which included civil and military officials, completed its inquiry in the past week, and concluded that Mr Sharif, his two sons and a daughter had not been truthful about their offshore wealth.

In a damning report, the investigators accused the members of the ruling family of living beyond their means, hiding their assets, perjury and forgery.

"The report is a pack of lies," Mr Sharif said in response.

He claims that the investigation focuses on his family's decades-old private businesses, and that it cannot find any proof of financial scandal or corruption during his current or past tenures.

The report caused an uproar in the country, and opposition political parties have united in calling for Mr Sharif's resignation. Last Friday, opposition politicians urged him to quit and nominate a new prime minister.

Mr Sharif - who managed to survive huge street protests last year and in 2014, when Mr Khan and his supporters laid siege to the capital Islamabad for several months - has refused to buckle under the legal and political pressure.

After meeting his party leaders last Friday afternoon, Mr Sharif said that he would stay in office at any cost.

There is already an air of celebration at Mr Khan's hillside Mediterranean-style villa on the outskirts of Islamabad. Politicians are lining up to join his party. Every day, dozens of sport utility vehicles belonging to influential hopefuls choke the street outside his house, which also serves as his political office.

"Now, there will be criminal proceedings against the Prime Minister," said Mr Khan.

"The whole family has lied to the court. The whole defence has been a fraud."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 17, 2017, with the headline 'Opposition elated over graft case that may oust Pakistan premier'. Print Edition | Subscribe