Rejecting the Panama probe panel report as a "bundle of baseless allegations", embattled Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif today tried to drum up support from his party ahead of the crucial hearing of the graft case against him and his family in the Supreme Court.
Chairing a parliamentary party meeting of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Sharif dismissed the report and the increasing demands from the opposition to step down over the Joint Investigation Team report that alleged Sharif and his family evaded tax.
The JIT, probing Sharif family's offshore assets, in its damning report submitted to the Supreme Court on July 10 recommended that a corruption case be filed against Sharif and his sons - Hassan and Hussain - as well as daughter Maryam. "The controversial report by the controversial JIT is a bundle of baseless allegations of our opponents," Sharif told his partymen, who endorsed his decision by a huge applause.
The 67-year-old leader said his family business has been targeted for over six decades but "there is no single sentence, which points out corruption committed by him."
Sharif said an "unjustified campaign" against his government was launched soon after he won the 2013 election and went on to outline the achievements of his premiership. He, however, regretted that elements creating political uncertainty and instability were damaging Pakistan and had these negative politics not been generated the economy would have done even better.
Sources close to PML-N said it was an important meeting to woo some of the disgruntled backbenchers of the party whose support would be key for the prime minister. The meeting - the fourth high-level meeting in five days - was called amid reports of ruptures within the ranks of PML-N.
Sharif held two back-to-back meetings with senior party leaders and advisors, which was followed by a cabinet meeting yesterday. In the meetings, it was agreed that Sharif would not resign and instead contest the JIT report in the Supreme Court which will start hearing the case against him on Monday. "The people of Pakistan have elected me and only they can remove me from this post," Sharif yesterday said.
The JIT in its report has said Sharif's lifestyle and that of his children was beyond the known means of income, and recommended a corruption case against him and his children.
Pakistan's opposition parties have demanded his resignation after the scathing indictment by the JIT. The high-profile graft case is about alleged money laundering by Sharif in 1990s when he twice served as the Prime Minister to purchase assets in London. The assets surfaced when Panama papers last year showed that they were managed through offshore companies owned by Sharif's children.
The case filed by various petitioners — Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan, Jamaat-i-Islami emir Sirajul Haq and Sheikh Rashid Ahmed — sought disqualification of Prime Minister Sharif over his alleged misstatement in his address to the nation on April 5, 2016 and his speech before the National Assembly on May 16, 2016.
In April, a five-judge Supreme Court bench issued a landmark 540-page split judgement ordering setting up of the JIT comprising officials from different agencies including those from powerful spy agencies the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Military Intelligence. Sharif is the only Pakistani politician who has the distinction of being the prime minister of the coup-prone country for a record three times.
He had served as the Prime Minister from 1990 to 1993 and from 1997 to 1999. Both of Sharif's first two stints had ended in the third year of his tenure.