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Pakistan’s top court rejects call to disqualify Prime Minister over corruption allegations


ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Thursday has ruled there was insufficient evidence to order Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s removal from office over corruption allegations levelled by the opposition, but it ordered further investigations.

A verdict to dismiss Sharif would have left his party in power but would have brought turmoil at a time when Pakistan is experiencing modest growth and improved security, and the civilian government and powerful military have appeared to come to uneasy terms.

Two of five judges on the court bench recommended Sharif should step down, saying he was dishonest “to the nation as well as to the parliament”, but they were out voted.

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Presenting its 549-page judgment amid tight security in the capital Islamabad, the court ordered a joint investigation team be formed to look into allegations around three of Sharif’s four children using offshore companies to buy properties in London.

The team has two months to complete its inquiry, after which a special bench will decide what action to take, the court said in a ruling that opens with the epigraph from Mario Puzo’s novel “The Godfather”: “Behind every great fortune there is a crime”.

The prime minister and his children deny any wrongdoing.

Pakistan’s stock market jumped after the court’s decision with the benchmark index .KSE closing up 2.39 percent. Sharif is seen as pro-business.

Analysts and opposition politicians said the ruling was a blow to Sharif’s credibility and the inquiry’s findings could yet weaken the prime minister as he heads into a general election, due by May 2018.

But for now, Sharif and his ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, are celebrating.

Sharif’s daughter and his presumptive political heir, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, posted a photo on Twitter of the family welcoming the court’s decision.

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“We are ready for all kinds of investigation,” Defence Minister Khawaja Asif told reporters outside the court.

The Supreme Court agreed last year to investigate the Sharif family’s offshore wealth after opposition leader Imran Khan threatened protests after the leaking of the “Panama Papers”.

“The prime minister should immediately resign at least for the 60 days until JIT completes its work,” Khan told reporters, referring to the joint investigation team. “What moral grounds does he have to continue in office?”

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