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Panama Papers Comeback: Pakistani Prime Minister

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Our latest tale of corruption takes us to South Asia, where the Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has just escaped an attempt to unseat him. His opponents had pressed the country’s supreme court to investigate him, and although Mr Sharif will retain power, the investigation is far from over. The scandal in Pakistan dates back to April last year, and the release of the Panama Papers.

In case you don’t remember, the papers were leaked documents from a Panamanian law firm called Mossack Fonseca. They contained tons of information about wealthy individuals and public officials that they had wanted to keep private, using the country’s status as a tax haven to hide a lot of money. Here in the UK, then-PM David Cameron was one name revealed in the leak, having profited from his father’s offshore trust before taking office.

The Investigation into Nawaz Sharif

Three other names that appeared were those of Sharif’s children – his daughter Maryam, and his sons Hasan and Hussein. Maryam is a big target for Sharif’s critics – before the leaks, she was being touted as a rising political star in Pakistan, and many believed that she was the most powerful person in government after her father (despite not holding any public office).

Maryam is a big target for Sharif’s critics

The papers revealed that Sharif’s children controlled shell companies, and they used these companies to purchase expensive residential properties in London. Sharif claimed that these properties were bought through investments in Qatar, although the truth of this has been argued. These revelations set off political turmoil in Pakistan, as Sharif’s opponents accused him and his family of financial wrongdoing and money laundering – something they strongly denied. The pressure continued to grow, with opposition leader Imran Khan threatening street protests against the PM – these were called off late last year when the Supreme Court agreed to investigate Sharif.

Sharif’s opponents accused him and his family of financial wrongdoing and money laundering

An investigation concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence of corruption to remove Sharif from office, although two of its five judges recommended exactly that. Instead, a new investigation was launched, intended to look into Sharif’s finances, and those of his children, with a focus on money transfers to Qatar. A team, consisting of both civilian and military investigators will report within 60 days.

A question of morals?

Both Sharif and Khan have taken the ruling as a win. Sharif was photographed smiling and celebrating with his family, and his lawyer said that they support an investigation that will clear their names. Khan and his legal team have argued against this – the politician says that Sharif has ‘no moral authority’ to remain in office as the subject of a criminal investigation, and that no investigation can be trusted to be impartial with Sharif remaining in charge. It was also suggested that allowing Sharif to remain in office whilst being investigated, hardly serves to deter possible corruption in the future.

For Sharif, this is a good result – he hasn’t been convicted, and he is now the subject on an investigation that he supported anyway. However, he can’t afford to be too complacent. There is an election coming next year, and Khan will be keen to see these charges mentioned loud and often – he has been using the Panama Paper leak as the centrepiece of his campaign against Sharif, and will be sure to do so as long as any investigation continues.

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