Pakistan’s Supreme Court starts hearings on PM’s graft charges

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has resumed hearings over corruption charges against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family, in a process that will decide the premier’s political future.

The hearing on Monday is expected to focus on a damaging 254-page corruption report run by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) investigative panel into the wealth of the Sharif family.

The JIT was set up by the Supreme Court to investigate the corruption claims that surfaced following the Panama Papers leak. The panel spent two months probing the Sharif family’s wealth and gave its finding to the court last week.

Based on the evidence tabled in the damning JIT report, the Supreme Court is expected to either put Sharif on trial on corruption charges or disqualify him as prime minister.

Sharif has denied any wrongdoing and described the report as “slander.”

The report alleges the Nawaz family’s vast wealth was beyond their means, and accuses his children, including presumed heir Maryam, of signing forged documents to obscure ownership of posh London flats.

The daughter of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Maryam, speaks to media after appearing before an anti-corruption commission at the Federal Judicial Academy in Islamabad on July 5, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Sharif’s team of legal experts will be allowed to defend Sharif against the report’s findings. He is, however, expected to be summoned before the court for questioning.

Sharif, 67, has rejected demands by opposition parties to resign, warning that his ouster would destabilize the country and imperil hard-won economic gains since his poll victory in 2013.

“It hurts that despite of our hard work, attempts are afoot once again to push the country back,” Sharif told a meeting of his ruling PML-N parliamentary party over the weekend.

Sharif in April narrowly escaped disqualification after the Supreme Court ruled there was insufficient evidence to remove him — by a 2-3 split — over documents released by the Panama Papers leak into off-shore wealth.

But the tribunal ordered further investigations as well as the formation of the JIT.

Sharif claims there is a conspiracy aimed at toppling him, but he has not named anyone.

 If Sharif is disqualified, another member of his party will replace him until the nation chooses a new premier in next year’s general elections.

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