ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan’s Supreme Court disqualified Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from office on Friday over undeclared assets, plunging the nuclear-armed South Asian nation into political turmoil after a period of relative stability.
Sharif swiftly resigned but in a statement his spokesman said there were “serious reservations” about the judicial process after the court ordered a criminal probe into his family over corruption allegations stemming from the “Panama Papers” leaks of international offshore companies.
Sharif’s ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, which won a majority in parliament in 2013, is expected to name a new prime minister to hold office until elections due next year.
Among allies mooted to replace Sharif are Defence Minister Asif Khawaja, Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal and Petroleum Minister Shahid Abbasi.
The ouster of Sharif, 67, who has now served as premier on three separate occasions, also raises questions about Pakistan’s fragile democracy. No prime minister has completed a full term in power since independence from British colonial rule in 1947.
The court verdict marks a major political victory for opposition leader Imran Khan, a former cricket star who last year threatened mass street protests unless Sharif’s wealth was investigated. Khan had pounced on the leaking of the Panama Papers, which revealed Sharif’s family had bought posh London apartments through offshore companies.
“Today the people of Pakistan got real justice, a new chapter has begun,” Jehangir Khan Tareen, a member of Khan’s opposition PTI party, said outside the court.
Khan himself is also under Supreme Court investigation on allegations he failed to declare sources of income, a charge he denies.
The court also ordered a criminal investigation into the assets of Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, one of Sharif’s closest allies, who has been credited with steering the economy to its fastest pace of growth in a decade. Earlier state-run TV and other media reported Dar had been disqualified.