Pakistan court wants probe of allegations against PM family
FILE -- In this Dec. 21, 2016 file photo, Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, inspects Bosnian Army honor guard during the visit to Bosnian capital of Sarajevo. On Thursday, April 20, 2017, Pakistan's top court is to deliver a much-awaited decision on corruption allegations against members of Sharif's family, a decision that could determine his political future. If the Supreme Court announces punitive measures against Sharif or his family members as part of the decision, it may lead to a serious crisis in government. (AP Photo/Amel Emric, File)
Munir Ahmed, The Associated Press
Published Thursday, April 20, 2017 5:47AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, April 20, 2017 8:20AM EDT
ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan's top court asked the government on Thursday to investigate corruption allegations against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's family, delaying for two months a decision that could have jeopardized his political future.
The Supreme Court had widely been expected to announce punitive measures against Sharif's family members or even the prime minister himself, which would have put him under significant pressure. In 2012, the same court convicted then-Premier Yusuf Raza Gilani in a contempt case, forcing him to step down.
The court acted on petitions from opposition lawmakers dating back to documents leaked in 2016 from a Panama-based law firm that indicated Sharif's sons owned several offshore companies.
The court convened under tight security Thursday in Islamabad but instead of the expected measures, it ordered that a joint government-intelligence commission look into the matter.
The tribunal's five judges, in a 3-2 vote, decided to give the commission two months to probe the allegations.
"We welcome this decision," Defence Minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif told reporters after coming out of the courtroom. "We will fully co-operate with the joint investigation team."
Information Minister Maryam Aurangzeb said the decision marks "the defeat for all those who have been levelling baseless allegations against Nawaz Sharif."
Sharif's family has acknowledged owning offshore businesses.
The opposition used the petitions in an effort to force Sharif, in power since 2013, to resign over tax evasion and concealing foreign investment. Sharif has defended his financial record.
Senior opposition politician Mehnaz Rafi -- from the party of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, which was leading the petition -- told The Associated Press before the court announced its decision that she hoped it would help recover tax money from Sharif's family and others who set up offshore companies to evade taxes.
If the court finds Sharif's family evaded paying taxes, she said he should resign as he will no longer have "moral authority to remain in power."
The prime minister has insisted his father built up the family business before Sharif entered politics in the 1980s. Sharif says he established a steel mill abroad while he was exiled to Saudi Arabia by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a coup in 1999.
Those facing corruption allegations include Sharif's daughter Maryam Nawaz, who tweeted ahead of the decision that she was amazed and humbled over seeing so much support from the people for her father.