Islamabad : Nawaz Sharif today resigned as Pakistan Prime Minister after the Supreme Court disqualified him from holding public office and ruled that graft cases be filed against the beleaguered leader and his children over the Panama Papers scandal.
It is the third time the 67-year-old veteran politician's term as premier has been cut short. The much-awaited verdict plunged Pakistan into a political crisis at a time when the country is facing a brittle economy and a surge in militancy.
As the unanimous verdict by the five-judge bench was read out by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan inside the packed courtroom 1 of the Supreme Court, a large number of opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf workers celebrated outside.
The court disqualified Sharif under Article 62 and 63 of the Constitution. The articles state that a member of Parliament should be "truthful" and "righteous".
"He is disqualified as a member of the parliament so he has ceased to be holding the office of Prime Minister," Justice Khan said. The court ordered the Election Commission to issue a notification for Sharif's disqualification.Following the court verdict, state-run PTV reported that Sharif had quit. It also reported that the government has accepted the verdict despite having serious reservations over it.
The Supreme Court also ordered the National Accountability Court to start a corruption case against Sharif, his children -- Hussain and Hassan -- and his daughter Maryam.The Supreme Court ordered that the cases against them be registered within six weeks and trial be completed within six months.
Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and Captain Muhammad Safdar, who is an Member of National Assembly (MNA), also stood disqualified from office, Radio Pakistan reported.
The Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, in a swipe at Sharif, tweeted, "Godfather's Rule has ended for good! Truth & Justice have prevailed!"
This is the third time the prime minister, known as the 'Lion of Punjab', has been unable to complete his term as premier. However, it was unclear as to who will take over the post till the next general elections, which are scheduled for 2018.
Former information minister Marryium Aurangzeb said that Sharif would make a comeback for the fourth time soon.
"We are disappointed by the court decision but in Pakistan's historical context it is not surprising," she said.
Aurangzeb said that PML-N is still the largest party of Pakistan and people have brought back Sharif with bigger majority whenever he was removed.
"There is no charge of corruption of public money against Sharif," she said.
She said the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) would soon announce its future course of action.
The verdict means that yet another Pakistani premier has failed to complete a five-year term.
No Pakistani prime minister has ever completed a full five-year term with their tenures cut short by the military, the judiciary or they were ousted by their own party, forced to resign -- or assassinated.
It is the second time in Pakistan's 70-year history that the Supreme Court has disqualified a sitting prime minister.
In 2012, then-prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani was disqualified over contempt of court charges for refusing to reopen a graft case against then president Asif Ali Zardari.
The Panama Papers scandal is about alleged money laundering by Sharif in 1990s, when he twice served as prime minister, to purchase assets in London. The assets surfaced when Panama Papers leak last year revealed that they were managed through offshore companies owned by Sharif's children.
The assets include four expensive flats in London.
Sharif has been the prime minister of Pakistan for a record three times. He leads Pakistan's most powerful political family and the ruling PML-N party.
A steel tycoon-cum-politician, Sharif had served as the Pakistan's prime minister for the first time from 1990 to 1993. His second term from 1997 was ended in 1999 by Army chief Pervez Musharraf in a bloodless coup.
In May, the Supreme Court set up a six-member joint investigation team (JIT) to investigate the charges against Sharif and his family. The JIT submitted its report to the court on July 10.
It said the lifestyle of Sharif and his children were beyond their known sources of income, and recommended filing of a new corruption case against them.
Sharif dismissed the report as a "bundle of baseless allegations" and refused to quit, despite demands to do so from several quarters, including opposition political parties.
On July 21, the court reserved its verdict after concluding the hearing.
The six-member JIT was set up with a mandate to probe the Sharif family for allegedly failing to provide the trail of money used to buy properties in London in the 1990s.
The top court took up the case in October last year on petitions filed by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Awami Muslim League and Jamaat-e-Islami and reserved the verdict in February after conducting hearings on a daily basis.
The five-judge bench that issued today's verdict comprised -- Justices Asif Saeed Khosa, Khan, Gulzar Ahmed, Sheikh Azmat Saeed and Ijazul Ahsan.
The court took up the case on November 3 last year and held 35 hearings spanning over more than 132 hours before concluding the proceedings on February 23. It had issued the 547-pages split judgement on April 20.