Islamabad: Over a month after conclusion of marathon hearings in the Panamagate case, the verdict of the Supreme Court of Pakistan is being eagerly and anxiously awaited - with the suspense heightened as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's fate hangs in the balance.

Last year, the Panama Papers scandal rocked governments worldwide, exposed high-profile personalities, including Prime Minister Sharif and his family, triggered scores of investigations around the world and dealt a blow to Panama as an offshore financial hub. In anticipation of the verdict, to be announced on Thursday afternoon, Islamabad's Red Zone has been put on "red alert". Police officials, including Special Branch officials, have been deployed for intelligence gathering and timely responses in advance. Only individuals with passes will be allowed into the court premises.

I challenge all those who allege tax fraud to come forward and present evidence. If charges are proved against me, I will resign immediately
Sharif

Ordinarily, there are about 60 to 70 reporters at the apex court on a daily basis, but on Thursday hundreds are expected to turn out to hear the historic verdict in the case, probing allegations of corruption and wrongdoing by Sharif and his family members in the case. Sharif, in his address to the nation earlier this week, said he will resign and go home if proven guilty. "I challenge all those who allege tax fraud to come forward and present evidence. If charges are proved against me, I will resign immediately," vowed Sharif.

Sharif's alleged wrongdoing came to light as part of a massive leak of secret files from a Panamanian law firm that specialises in setting up offshore companies in tax havens. A trove of 11.5 million digital records from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca last year revealed how many of the world's wealthy used offshore companies to stash assets.

According to the Panama Papers, three of Sharif's four children - daughter Maryam and sons Hasan and Hussain - were owners of offshore companies and "were owners or had the right to authorise transactions for several companies". But Sharif and his family have dismissed the allegations of money laundering and denied any wrongdoing. Since the Panama Papers leak in June 2016, opposition parties have been jumping at every opportunity to register their protest and mobilise supporters against Sharif. "I can say with surety that... not a single penny went out of Pakistan," emphasised Sharif on the floor of Parliament on May 16, 2016, soon after details emerged in the case. The opposition staged a walkout as Sharif proposed a parliamentary commission to probe the allegations.

Nawaz Sharif’s family
Nawaz Sharif’s family

In the aftermath of the leaks, Iceland's Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson had been forced to resign after it was revealed that his family sheltered assets offshore. The petitioners in the case against Sharif -- Advocate Tariq Asad, Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) chief Sirajul Haq, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf chief Imran Khan and Awami Muslim League head Sheikh Rashid Ahmed -- have sought disqualification of the Prime Minister and his close family members for their alleged investment in offshore companies.

A five-member apex court bench, led by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, took up petitions on October 20, 2016, and concluded its hearing on February 23, 2017. Justice Khosa observed that 26,000 pages were submitted in the case and the judges will read "each word" of it. He observed that it was not a case wherein a short order could be passed. "The court will decide the case only after considering the material submitted in the court and will announce its verdict in accordance with the law and Constitution," Justice Khosa said earlier this year. "We will decide this case only by the law; such that people will say, 20 years down the line, that this judgement was made by the book," Justice Khosa said.


IANS