Islamabad, April 20 (IANS) Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Thursday got a temporary reprieve after the Supreme Court in its highly-anticipated verdict in the Panamagate scandal said there was "insufficient evidence" to remove him from office but ordered a fresh probe into the graft allegations against him and his family.
Sharif expressed his satisfaction after the verdict that was split 3-2 among the five-judge bench, comprising Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, Justice Gulzar Ahmed, Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, Justice Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijazul Ahsan.
Sharif said he respected the court's decision. His Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) celebrated the verdict, while the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party demanded that Sharif should resign.
The bench examined arguments presented by the PTI, the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), the Watan Party and the All Pakistan Muslim League, which framed the case as a campaign against corruption and were pushing for Sharif's ouster.
The final verdict saw two dissenting notes in the bench, with Justice Khosa and Justice Ahmed ruling against Sharif, saying he should be disqualified, while the other three were in favour of forming a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) for a fresh probe.
Reading the 540-page verdict, Justice Khosa asked how the Sharif family assets were transferred from Pakistan to Jeddah in the first place.
A JIT, made up of officials from the military and other investigating agencies, would be set up within a week and submit a report in 60 days, the court said.
Justice Khosa said the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had failed to probe the case properly. The two agencies are part of the JIT.
Sharif, who many in Pakistan feared might be forced to step down on Thursday, will appear before the probe team.
The scandal erupted last year with the publication of the "Panama Papers" which documented the offshore dealings of many of the world's rich and powerful.
Among those implicated were three of Sharif's four children - his daughter and presumptive political heir Maryam and sons Hasan and Hussein.
At the heart of the matter is the legitimacy of the funds used by Sharif's family to buy high-end London properties through offshore firms. His party says the wealth was acquired legally in Pakistan and the Gulf.
"It needs to be investigated how the money was transferred to Qatar," the verdict read.
The JIT will be required to present the report after every two weeks.
The ruling PML-N was quick to tweet photos and statements of celebration after the Supreme Court verdict.
PTI Chairman Imran Khan, after the ruling, urged Sharif to resign during the duration of the investigation into how the Sharif family's money was transferred to Qatar.
"I demand Nawaz Sharif resign... Until the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) completes its probe," Khan said.
"If you're cleared within 60 days, you can return," Khan said.
However, Khan congratulated the nation on the "historic" ruling.
Former President Asif Ali Zardari, addressing a press conference, said that Sharif should hand in his resignation.
"I condemn the (court's) decision," he said.
"Mian sahab you have failed. You cannot run the government. Give someone else a chance to run the government," Zardari said.
"We believe that if Pakistan is not safe in the hands of Nawaz Sharif, it is also not safe in the hands of Imran Khan," said Zardari, whose own Pakistan's Peoples Party is gunning for a victory in the next election.
The Premier's daughter, Maryam Nawaz, tweeted a photo of Sharif, his family and PML-N leaders celebrating the verdict with smiles and embraces.
Addressing the media after the verdict, Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique said: "Every party including Imran Khan, Sirajul Haq should now respect the SC verdict."
"The split verdict proves that people, especially the PTI who opposed the Prime Minister, are in a minority," said Ahsan Iqbal, a leader from Sharif's PML-N.
The landmark judgement was made public 57 days after the case was last heard by the court.