Court orders probe into corruption allegations against Pakistan PM's family
Pakistan's top court has asked the government to investigate corruption allegations against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's family, delaying for two months a decision that could have jeopardised his political future.
The Supreme Court had widely been expected to announce punitive measures against Mr Sharif's family members or even the prime minister himself, which would have put him under significant pressure.
In 2012, the same court convicted then-premier Yusuf Raza Gilani in a contempt case, forcing him to step down.
The court acted on petitions from opposition politicians dating back to documents leaked in 2016 from a Panama-based law firm that indicated Mr Sharif's sons owned several offshore companies.
The court convened under tight security in Islamabad on Thursday, but instead of the expected measures it ordered that a joint government-intelligence commission should look into the matter.
The tribunal's five judges, in a 3-2 vote, decided to give the commission two months to probe the allegations.
Defence minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif said: "We welcome this decision. We will fully co-operate with the joint investigation team."
Information minister Maryam Aurangzeb said the decision marks "the defeat for all those who have been levelling baseless allegations against Nawaz Sharif".
Mr Sharif's family have acknowledged owning offshore businesses.
The opposition used the petitions in an effort to force Mr Sharif, in power since 2013, to resign over tax evasion and concealing foreign investment. He has defended his financial record.
Senior opposition politician Mehnaz Rafi - from the party of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, which was leading the petition - said before the court announced its decision that she hoped it would help recover tax money from Mr Sharif's family and others who set up offshore companies to evade taxes.
If the court finds Mr Sharif's family evaded paying taxes, she said he should resign as he will no longer have "moral authority to remain in power".
The prime minister has insisted his father built up the family business before Mr Sharif entered politics in the 1980s.
Mr Sharif says he established a steel mill abroad while he was exiled to Saudi Arabia by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a coup in 1999.
Those facing corruption allegations include Mr Sharif's daughter Maryam Nawaz, who tweeted ahead of the decision that she was amazed and humbled over seeing so much support from the people for her father.