ISLAMABAD - A high court in Pakistan has removed and debarred the country’s foreign minister from holding public office for life for concealing his foreign assets.
The verdict announced Thursday against deposed Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif came nine months after a landmark Supreme Court ruling ousted former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on similar grounds.
A three-judge panel of the Islamabad High Court unanimously found Asif guilty of hiding his employment contract with a United Arab Emirates-based company for which he was receiving a large salary in an undeclared foreign bank account.
Under Pakistani election laws, candidates have to declare local and foreign assets in their nomination papers to qualify for elections.
Asif, a close aide and stalwart of the ousted Sharif’s ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, or PML-N, has vowed to challenge the verdict in the Supreme Court. But legal experts have ruled out relief for the ousted foreign minister, citing constitutional provisions the high court used to debar Asif from politics for life.
Sharif, 67, resigned from office in July after the top court found him guilty of concealing a foreign source of income and de-seated him from parliament.
A Supreme Court ruling earlier this month said anyone disqualified from public office under the provisions in question will stand debarred from politics for life.
Thursday’s judicial order dealt another major blow to Sharif’s ruling party as it completes its mandated five-year term in June, before Pakistan holds new elections later this year. The PML-N party has witnessed defections of key members in recent weeks.
The ruling party elected Sharif aide Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as his successor to enable it to complete its legal term.
Sharif and his party loyalists reject the judicial ruling against him. They indirectly accuse the Pakistani military of orchestrating the proceedings to oust the former prime minister from national politics, charges judiciary and military officials reject.
Sharif’s dismissal was based on corruption charges stemming from the 2016 Panama Papers, leaked documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. The papers contained names of three of Sharif’s six children heading offshore companies that purchased four London luxury flats.
The Sharif family has maintained the companies were set up with legally obtained money and an anti-corruption court is investigating the claims under direction from the Supreme Court.