Imran Khan Attacks Sharif Before Pakistan Panama Leak Ruling

  • Opposition leader has hounded PM Sharif over graft allegations
  • Supreme Court may make a ruling on Panama leaks case Thursday

Imran Khan.

Photographer: Asad Zaidi/Bloomberg

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif faces insurmountable damage to re-election prospects due to a corruption lawsuit against him and his family, opposition leader Imran Khan said before a Supreme Court ruling.

Khan -- a former cricket star who won adulation for leading Pakistan to victory in the 1992 World Cup -- said Sharif was guilty in the “court of public opinion" as social media ensured updates from the trial swept across the nation. The court took up the case in November after Khan threatened street protests in the capital, Islamabad. An expected verdict on Thursday was indefinitely delayed as Asif Khan Khosa, the head of the five-member panel of judges, said they needed more time to consider all aspects of the suit.

“He’s fatally wounded already in the Supreme Court,” Khan, the 64-year-old chairman of the nation’s third-largest political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or Movement for Justice, said in a late Wednesday interview at his hilltop home in Islamabad. “Even if they don’t disqualify him, he’s just going to get progressively weaker after this.”

The uproar has distracted the government as it looks to shepherd China’s $55 billion pledged investment in the country after steering the economy away from the brink of a debt crisis in 2013, and risks halting one of the world’s biggest stock rallies. This isn’t the first time Khan has tried to oust the prime minister -- he’d made allegations of vote rigging after Sharif won Pakistan’s first democratic transfer of power in a nation ruled by the military for most of its history.

Power Struggle

Khan has hounded Pakistan’s premier over leaks last year from a Panama law firm that showed Sharif’s children used offshore companies, allegedly to make property investments in the U.K. If the court finds the assets were illegally created, the Election Commission can declare Sharif ineligible to be a lawmaker and prime minister, potentially triggering a power struggle in the party controlled by the Sharif family.

Sharif and his family have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. Calls on Thursday to Sharif’s spokesman Musadiq Malik and State Minister for Information Marriyum Aurangzeb weren’t answered. Sharif is currently in Turkey for a three-day visit and met with the country’s President Recep Erdogan on Wednesday.

Sharif had earlier pledged to step down if charges were proved. While corruption allegations have been leveled against Pakistan’s leaders over the decades, convictions are hard to come by.

The KSE-100 stock index has surged 111 percent since May 2013, the second-best performance among more than 90 indexes tracked by Bloomberg, as Sharif aims to boost growth to 7 percent by 2018, when he faces re-election, from a targeted 5.7 percent in the year through June 2017.

‘Biggest Issue’

Khan dismissed critics who accused him of bringing the court case to politically weaken Sharif.

“It’s not how I looked at it,” he said. “I always thought that I went into the Supreme Court because corruption is the biggest issue in Pakistan and it needs to be exposed.”

The nation of about 200 million people ranks at 116 out of 176 countries in Transparency International’s corruption perception index 2016. Khan said chronic misrule and graft has stunted the country’s development more than any other issue.

He also raised the specter of further political turmoil at Wednesday’s interview. In 2014, thousands of Khan’s supporters flooded the capital for months in protest against alleged election fraud.

“I think his best chance is he will pour in money to the elections and rig the elections,” he said. “That everyone knows because the last election was the most rigged election in our history.”

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