World

Court ends hearing into corruption charges against PM

Pakistan's supreme court on Friday concluded its hearing into a high-profile case involving allegations of corruption against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family, but it wasn't immediately clear when a verdict would be announced, defense lawyers and attorneys for petitioners said.

According to attorneys involved in the case, the court heard arguments from both the government and opposition after a court-ordered investigation found "significant disparity" between declared wealth and known sources of income of Sharif and his family.

Under Pakistani law, the court has the power to disqualify Sharif if he is found guilty. Sharif denies allegations he misused his office to enrich himself.

"The Supreme Court today concluded the hearing of this case and it will set a date for announcing the judgment later," said Salman Akram Raja, the lawyer for Sharif's family.

Fawad Chaudhry, one of the lawyers for opposition leader Imran Khan who led the fight to have the prime minister investigated, said Sharif faced a serious challenge and "we hope Nawaz Sharif will be disqualified" for concealing his assets.

Opposition lawmakers have been fighting a legal battle to disqualify Sharif as prime minister since 2016 when leaked documents from a Panama-based law firm disclosed his family's offshore accounts.

Sharif's political fate has been hanging in the balance since April. The Supreme Court, acting on petitions from opposition lawmakers, decided to establish a six-member Joint Investigation Team to delve into the allegations corruption involving his family, including his daughter and two sons.

Two of the five supreme court judges opposed setting up an investigation team preferring to hand down a verdict based on the information they already had in its possession.

However the team was established and on July 10 it submitted its voluminous report to the court to support its conclusion that a "significant disparity" existed between the Sharif's declared wealth and its known sources of income. The report suggested the Supreme Court take action against Sharif and his family in accordance with a 1999 accountability law intended to help stamp out corruption.

Sharif has sought to discredit the investigators, accusing them of bias.

After Friday's court hearing, Information Minister Maryam Aurangzeb said the government had "serious reservations" about the Joint Investigation Team, adding it failed to prove corruption allegations.

"We hope and expect that the court will do justice," she said.

Meanwhile, opposition parties say Sharif's days are numbered.

If Sharif is disqualified his Pakistan Muslim League, which holds a majority of seats in Pakistan's Parliament, can choose another person as prime minister.

Sharif defended his wealth saying it came from his father, who accumulated his fortune prior to the younger Sharif's entry into politics in the 1980s. Sharif also says he established a steel mill abroad when he lived in exile in Saudi Arabia. Sharif was sent into exile by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, who seized power from him in a coup in 1999.

Sharif, as well as his daughter and two sons, appeared before the investigation team in recent weeks, saying their hands were clean.