Court starts hearings to decide Sharif’s future

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's Supreme Court today began hearings that will decide the future of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is fighting for his job and contesting a corruption report by an investigative panel.

The Supreme Court is expected to either put Sharif on trial on corruption charges, or even disqualify him, but few expect the judges to dismiss the case after the panel tabled a damaging report into his family wealth.

Sharif has denied any wrongdoing after the report alleged his family's vast wealth was beyond their means, and accused his children, including presumed heir Maryam, of signing forged documents to obscure ownership of posh London flats.

Sharif, 67, has rejected demands by opposition parties to resign, warning his ouster would destabilise the country.

"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 it ordered further investigations, and the formation of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) panel.

Sharif has talked of a conspiracy against him, but has not named anyone. His allies, however, privately claim that elements of Pakistan's powerful military and the judiciary are bent on toppling him.

The army spokesman brushed aside questions about claims the military's hidden hand was the driving force behind the JIT probe, saying "the Pakistan army is not directly connected".

The six-person JIT panel included one member from the military intelligence agency and another from the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, the country's top spy agency. – Reuters