Panama Papers: Pakistan’s justice system catches up

Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady

Published: Updated:

Who says the long arm of justice does not catch up one day, irrespective of the position of the highest office holder?

The news that Nawaz Sharif has resigned as prime minister of Pakistan following a decision by the country’s Supreme Court to disqualify him from office, should be celebrated as evidence that whatever the rights and wrongs of the person involved, even in countries with so called poor governance, justice finally catches up one day.

The ruling came after a probe into his family’s wealth following the 2015 Panama Papers dump linking companies to the prime minister and his family. A five-member bench in the court handed down the verdict unanimously.

Sharif is not the first prime minister to lose his position following the leaking of documents from the Panamanian law firm as others have fallen foul of the scandal, as Iceland’s prime minister was forced to resign after documents appeared to reveal that he and his wife concealed millions of dollars worth of investments in an offshore company.

Transparency listing

In its 2016 Corruption Perception Global Index, Transparency International listed Iceland in 14th position and Pakistan 116 in global ranking, so the bar for Pakistan to take action against a sitting prime minister was far higher for Pakistani justice than for Iceland.

Conscious of the historical decision that it made and emboldened to pursue similar cases further irrespective of the political consequences, the court has recommended anti-corruption cases against several individuals, including Mr Sharif, his daughter Maryam and her husband Safdar, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and others.

No politician with a troubled conscience in Pakistan is now safe, and the population will expect the same treatment meted out to all elected and non-elected ruling party elite irrespective of party affiliation. The train of justice has started to roll and cannot be shuttled into a backyard and those who advocate transparency and accountability worldwide should celebrate the court decision.

Sharif, who was serving as prime minister for a record third time, was less than a year away from becoming the first in Pakistani history to complete a full term in office. He served as prime minister from November 1990 to July 1993 and from February 1997 until he was toppled in a bloodless coup in October 1999.

No politician with a troubled conscience in Pakistan is now safe, and the population will expect the same treatment meted out to all elected and non-elected ruling party elite irrespective of party affiliation

Dr. Mohamed Ramady

Wheels of justice

Allegations of corruption have chased Sharif since the 1980s. Much of what the Panama Papers revealed was the subject of a federal inquiry in the mid-1990s, but the wheels of justice have creaked on very slowly since then until the explosive and detailed Panama Papers revealed the extent of foreign assets of worldwide politicians.

The leaks in April 2016 revealed that three of Mr Sharif’s children owned offshore companies and assets not shown on his family’s wealth statement. The companies were allegedly used to channel funds to acquire foreign assets, including some apartments along Park Lane in London’s Mayfair area, locations favored by the rich and mighty of many nationalities.

No one can of course take way the right of individuals to do what they want with their honestly gained money gained hard working and enterprise, but what is unacceptable is for government officials to abuse their position for monetary gain and bring disrepute to the hallowed office of public service.

Ill-gotten wealth

The insinuation that the companies were meant to hide or launder ill-gotten wealth or to avoid taxes called Mr Sharif’s credentials into question. In Pakistan there was predictable anger and joy in equal measures as the country’s divisions fell largely along party lines but many have also expressed concerns over Pakistan’s political culture and the future of the country itself but they do not need to worry.

The unanimous court ruling has shown to everyone that no politician will be above the law, and in this significant victory, Pakistan can move forward and say to the rest of the world that we have done what few others have dared do, given the wide scale revelations of the Panama Papers scandal.

For once, Pakistan is making the headline news for the right reasons and we may still hear of a future Pakistani Premier peacefully serving out his full five year term in office.
Dr. Mohamed Ramady is an energy economist and geo-political expert on the GCC and former Professor at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

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