Calibri font in spotlight as FontGate could leave Pakistan sans Sharif

A Pakistani journalist holds a copy of a corruption report in Islamabad on July 12, 2017.
A Pakistani journalist holds a copy of a corruption report in Islamabad on July 12, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD (AFP, REUTERS) - A typeface has sparked uproar in Pakistan after documents using the font were produced in a corruption case against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif - despite being dated a year before the design was released.

Microsoft's Calibri font was used to type certified papers naming Sharif's daughter Maryam as a trustee for several of the family's high-end London properties.

The plush apartments are at the heart of the case against the Sharif family, with authorities and the opposition questioning the legitimacy of funds used to buy them via offshore companies.

The controversy erupted last year with the publication of 11.5 million secret documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, revealing the offshore dealings of many of the world's rich and powerful.

Along with Maryam, two more of Sharif's four children - his sons Hasan and Hussein - were also implicated in the papers.

The identity of the legal beneficiaries has formed part of the probe, and the documents were meant to show that Maryam, who is Sharif's presumptive political heir, was a trustee only.

But the papers were dated February 2006 - a year before the font in which they are typed was in widespread commercial use, according to its creator.

The same conclusion was drawn by a joint investigative team (JIT) tasked by Pakistan's Supreme Court with examining the corruption claims, which had London's Radley Forensic Document Laboratory assess the documents.

Based on that assessment, the JIT rejected the papers as "falsified" in a report issued earlier this week, and seen by AFP.

The conclusion, dubbed #FontGate, set Pakistani social media alight with jokes and memes, and was widely repeated in mainstream press, adding fuel to opposition calls for the prime minister to step down.

'More than porn'

"Today #calibri was searched more than porn in Pakistan", wrote one Twitter user, Sherry.

Journalist Mubashir Zaidi said the PM should now write his resignation "in #Calibri font".

Supporters of Sharif's ruling PML-N party argued that Calibri has been publicly available since 2004. Microsoft did not immediately respond to AFP's requests for comment.

But the font's creator, a Dutch designer named Lucas De Groot, told AFP in a statement that it was "unlikely" Calibri had been used in any official documents in 2006.

"(I)n my opinion the document in question was produced much later," he said.

De Groot said he began designing Calibri in 2002 and sent the finalised version to Microsoft in 2004. After that, he said, it was used in beta versions that would have required "serious effort" to obtain.

The first Microsoft product to use Calibri on a large scale was Office 2007, he said, which was available to resellers by Nov 20, 2006 and for retail by Jan 30, 2007.

"So in theory it would have been possible to make a document with Calibri in 2006," he said. 

"However... It should have been taken from a beta operating system, from the hands of computer nerds. Why would anyone use a completely unknown font for an official document in 2006?

"If the person using Calibri was such a font lover that he or she HAD to use the new Calibri, then he or she should be able to prove that other documents were printed with Calibri in 2006, and these prints should be in the hands of other people as well."

Sharif rejects graft report as “slander”

Sharif on Thursday for the first time explicitly dismissed the investigation report as slander.  

Sharif, 67, serving his third term as prime minister, faces opposition calls to step down but he was defiant in his condemnation of the report that alleges his family’s income from business was not large enough to explain its wealth.  

“The JIT report about our family businesses is the sum of hypotheses, accusations and slander,” Sharif said in a statement after meeting his Cabinet. “Accusations amounting to billions are being made here but no wrongdoing has been proven.”

Copies of the investigation have been leaked to the media, prompting a chorus of demands from political parties that he resign from office.

“Nawaz’s authority is completely eroded,” Shah Mehmood Qureshi, vice chairman of the opposition PTI party, told Reuters. “There is no legal, moral or political justification for him to continue.”

Pakistan has for decades been plagued by pervasive graft, and by rivalry between the military and civilian politicians.  

Sharif’s term expires in June 2018 and elections are expected two months later. If he were forced to step down, his ruling PML-N party could appoint a new leader as prime minister until the polls.

Maryam Nawaz, herself a regular Twitter user, has not yet commented publicly on the Calibri claim, though she vowed the report itself would be "decimated" in court.

Sharif's PML-N party insists the wealth used to purchase the properties was acquired legally, through family businesses in Pakistan and the Gulf.

But the JIT report, commissioned by the Supreme Court in April, said there was a "significant disparity" between the Sharifs' income and lifestyle.

The Sharif family has consistently denied the allegations against it and rejected the JIT report, with allies denouncing it as "trash".

The court is considering its next steps and will begin deciding what action to take next week.