Pakistan’s Supreme Court will announce a much-awaited judgment Thursday that could either politically boost Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, or unseat him over corruption allegations.
A five-member bench of the Supreme Court concluded long-drawn hearings in the case on February 23 and reserved the final judgment.
The corruption charges against the prime minister stem from leaked financial documents known as the Panama Papers. They listed Sharif's two sons and a daughter, along with hundreds of other Pakistanis, as holders of offshore bank accounts.
Sharif denied any wrongdoing, but the court agreed to investigate his family's offshore wealth late last year after opposition leader Imran Khan threatened street protests.
Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf — or PTI party — along with several other politicians, had separately petitioned the court to disqualify the prime minister.
They argued that since the emergence of the Panama Papers, Sharif has concealed and misstated facts in speeches to parliament and to the nation about property his children own in London through offshore companies.
Khan alleges that Sharif established the assets through tax evasion, money-laundering and corruption during his previous two stints as prime minister of Pakistan in the 1990s.
“It is a defining moment in the history of Pakistan because this verdict will change the way the ruling elite govern in Pakistan,” Khan told a public gathering in Islamabad ahead of Thursday’s court decision. He said that the judicial system in the past “unfortunately” had always sided with the powerful in the country.
“What should happen first time in our history is that a powerful person in Pakistan should be convicted of corruption and money laundering,” Khan said when asked about the coming court ruling.
Corruption is rampant in Pakistan. The country ranks 116th out of 176 in Transparency International's annual index of the world's most corrupt nations.
Government ministers and Sharif’s ruling party aides appeared confident, however, that the verdict will be in favor of the prime minister.
Federal Information Minster Marriyam Aurengzeb told reporters the court decision will bring an end to “all rumor-mongering and speculation.” She said those leveling “false accusations” against Sharif would get nothing.
Pakistani political circles and media are rife with speculation about possible outcomes after the Supreme Court announced on Tuesday it would hand down the verdict on Thursday.
Leaders of mainstream Pakistani political parties have converged on Islamabad and are holding internal meetings to discuss future plans if the Supreme Court verdict leads to the disqualification of Prime Minister Sharif.