NYTimes: Pakistani Opposition Hopes for Leader’s Removal Over Corruption Case

PM Nawaz Sharif

PM Nawaz Sharif

Salman Masood, July 15,2017 NYTimes.com

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Imran Khan, the Pakistani cricket star turned politician, believes his moment of political triumph has finally arrived. On Monday, the country’s Supreme Court will begin a series of hearings in a highly anticipated corruption case that could result in the removal of Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif from office.

“I think he is gone,” Mr. Khan said of Mr. Sharif, his bitter political rival. “The long, dark night is finally over.”

But a top aide to the prime minister said that a verdict resulting in such a removal would be “a judicial coup.”

For more than a year, Mr. Sharif has been mired in a bruising controversy over revelations that his family owns expensive residential properties in London through offshore companies. The information first surfaced last year in the leaked Panama Papers and was vehemently denied by Mr. Sharif.

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But Mr. Khan has pestered Mr. Sharif and his family to provide the money trails for the purchase of the apartments. “Show the receipts,” is a common slogan of Mr. Khan’s supporters and party workers.

The controversy has been a godsend for Mr. Khan, the opposition leader, who has relentlessly campaigned against Mr. Sharif ever since he took office in 2013 and has been on a personal crusade to remove him from office.

Mr. Khan led street protests last year that resulted in the Supreme Court hearing petitions regarding Mr. Sharif’s offshore wealth. In April, a five-member bench of the court decided the prime minister could remain in office but ordered an investigation into the allegations. Two dissenting judges, however, recommended Mr. Sharif’s disqualification, with one justice equating Mr. Sharif to a “godfather” of an Italian-style Mafia.

The team of investigators, which included civil and military officials, completed its inquiry in the past week and concluded that Mr. Sharif, his two sons and a daughter had not been truthful about their offshore wealth. In a damning report, the investigators accused the members of the ruling family of living beyond their means, hiding their assets, perjury and forgery.

“The report is a pack of lies,” Mr. Sharif said in response.

The prime minister claims that the investigation focuses on his family’s decades-old private businesses and cannot find any proof of financial scandal or corruption in his current or past tenures.

The report caused an uproar in the country, and opposition political parties have united in calling for Mr. Sharif’s resignation. On Friday, opposition politicians urged Mr. Sharif to quit and nominate a new prime minister.

Mr. Sharif — who managed to survive huge street protests last year and in 2014, when Mr. Khan, the opposition politician, and his supporters laid siege to the capital for several months — has refused to buckle under the legal and political pressure.

After meeting his party leaders Friday afternoon, Mr. Sharif said he would stay in office at any cost.

But there is already an air of celebration at Mr. Khan’s hillside Mediterranean-style villa on the outskirts of Islamabad, the capital. Politicians are lining up to join his party. Every day, dozens of sport utility vehicles belonging to influential hopefuls choke the street outside his house, which also serves as his political office.

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