Pakistan’s top court on Friday disqualified Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from office after a damning corruption probe into his family wealth, cutting short his third stint in power.
The Supreme Court dismissed Sharif after an investigative panel alleged his family could not account for its vast wealth.
The court also ordered a criminal investigation against the premier and his family.
“He is no more eligible to be an honest member of the parliament, and he ceases to be holding the office of prime minister”, Judge Ejaz Afzal Khan said in court.
Sharif, 67, has always denied any wrongdoing and has dismissed the investigation into him as biased and inaccurate.
Sharif’s allies have alleged there was a conspiracy to unseat him.
“This is not accountability, it is revenge,” tweeted Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafiq hours before the verdict was announced.
“In an effort dislodge us, the democratic system has been made a target.”
Sharif’s two previous stints in power were also cut short, including by a military coup in 1999, but he came back from exile to win a resounding victory in the 2013 general elections.
His ruling PML-N party, which has a majority in the parliament, is now expected to appoint a new prime minister.
It was reported that the prosecutors accused his children, including presumed heir Maryam, of signing forged documents to hide ownership of posh London flats.
Sharif has denied wrongdoing and slammed the 254-page report by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) as biased and slanderous.
He had also rejected opposition demands to stand down.
Sharif’s lawyers have been arguing that the JIT overstepped its remit, and disputed its findings.
Opposition parties believe Sharif is wobbling and expect the Supreme Court to deliver a knockout blow to his premiership by employing a little-used constitutional provision to dismiss a sitting official.
“From our legal perspective it’s crystal clear: he can’t survive this,’’ said Shafqat Mahmood, a lawmaker and senior official with the opposition PTI party.
Sharif’s allies interpret the court’s decision not to summon him as indicating that it will order a National Accountability Bureau (NAB) investigation.
Such an outcome would be seen as something of a victory by the ruling PML-N party because it would probably allow Sharif to finish his term and even contest the next polls in 2018.
Sharif has faced numerous investigations since he served his first two terms in the 1990s and now has many pending NAB cases.
Both those terms were cut short, and he spent a long time in exile after being deposed in a military coup in 1999.
Sharif, son of an industrialist, has denied all the claims against him and his supporters say he has never been convicted of anything in spite facing unprecedented scrutiny during three stints in power.
Sharif has talked of a conspiracy against him, but has not named anyone.
Privately, however, his allies say elements of the military and the judiciary are bent on toppling him.
On July 17, the army spokesman brushed aside suggestions that the military was the hidden hand behind the investigation.
Opposition politicians say Sharif is concocting conspiracy claims to save him, and argue that if he really wanted to protect democracy he would step down.