Pakistan’s Supreme Court starts hearings to decide PM’s future

The daughter of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz (C), is escorted by security as she arrives to appear before an anti-corruption commission at the Federal Judicial Academy in Islamabad on July 5, 2017. Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his children are accused of graft in an ongoing case which has captivated Pakistan and threatened to topple the prime minister after the Panama Papers leak last year linked the family to offshore businesses. The Supreme Court issued a split ruling calling for a joint investigation team of anti-corruption officials along with the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence to probe the claims and issue a report within 60 days. (AFP)
Updated 17 July 2017
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Pakistan’s Supreme Court starts hearings to decide PM’s future

PAKISTAN: Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Monday began hearings that will decide the future of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is fighting for his job and contesting a damning corruption report by an investigative panel.
The Supreme Court is expected to either put Sharif on trial on corruption charges, or even disqualify him, but few expect the judges to dismiss the case after the panel tabled a damaging 254-page report into his family wealth.
Sharif has denied any wrongdoing after the report alleged his family’s vast wealth was beyond their means, and accused his children, including presumed heir Maryam, of signing forged documents to obscure ownership of posh London flats.
Sharif, 67, has rejected demands by opposition parties to resign, warning his ouster would destabilize the country and imperil hard-won economic gains since his poll victory in 2013.
“It hurts that despite of our hard work, attempts are afoot once again to push the country back,” Sharif told a meeting of his ruling PML-N parliamentary party over the weekend.
Sharif in April narrowly escaped disqualification after the Supreme Court ruled there was insufficient evidence to remove him — by a 2-3 split — over documents released by the Panama Papers leak into off-shore wealth.
But it ordered further investigations, and the formation of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) panel.
Sharif has talked of a conspiracy against him, but has not named anyone. His allies, however, privately claim that elements of Pakistan’s powerful military and the judiciary are bent on toppling him.
The army spokesman brushed aside questions about claims the military’s hidden hand was the driving force behind the JIT probe, saying “the Pakistan army is not directly connected.”
The six-person JIT panel included one member from the military intelligence agency and another from the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, the country’s top spy agency.
Sharif, son of an industrialist serving his third term in power, has had a fractious relationship with the army.
He was originally nurtured by the military as a civilian politician who would protect their interests, and he served as prime minister twice in the 1990s.
But relations soured and his second stint as prime minister ended when he was ousted in a 1999 coup leading to a decade of exile. Relations with the military during the current term have also been tense at times.
Sharif’s legal team and the opposition will be given a chance to contest the JIT findings and Sharif is also expected to be summoned to appear before the court in coming days or weeks.
Opposition politicians say Sharif is concocting claims of conspiracy to save his skin and argue that if he really wanted to protect democracy he should step down.
Imran Khan, the opposition leader who pushed the hardest for Sharif to be investigated, said the premier would end up in jail, and vowed protests if he was not ousted by the court.
“Either we will celebrate in Islamabad or otherwise we will hit the streets to save our democracy and to make sure we send this mafia to Adiyala jail,” Khan told supporters.


Italy confirms seizure of German NGO migrant rescue ship

Updated 24 April 2018
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Italy confirms seizure of German NGO migrant rescue ship

ROME: Italy’s highest court of appeal on Tuesday rejected a request by the German NGO Jugend Rettet to release its migrant rescue boat, impounded eight months ago on suspicion of facilitating illegal immigration.
The Italian Court of Cassation did not say why it had turned down the NGO’s request for the release of the Iuventa, a 33-meter (110-foot) motorboat seized off the island of Lampedusa on August 2.
At the time, the state police force had said that circumstantial evidence had come to light in a probe dating back to October 2016 which suggested the boat was being used for “activities facilitating illegal immigration.”
Two security officers employed on another rescue boat presented images that they alleged showed Jugend Rettet members conversing with suspected smugglers. They had also allegedly been seen sending back a wooden boat to Libya that was then used to transport more migrants.
But Jugend Rettet denies the allegations, saying the officers had misinterpreted particularly complicated rescue operations carried out on two days in June 2017 when many boats were in distress.
A detailed study by the Forensic Oceanography collective of all available images and radio exchanges in the area over those two days also cast doubt on the allegations.
At a news conference in Berlin, Jugend Rettet spokesman, Philipp Kuelker, said the Iuventa case “sets a precedent.”
The court was making it possible to “criminalize rescue at sea and showing solidarity with other human beings on the run. But as long as people continue to die at sea, we will continue our fight,” Kuelker said.
By contrast, an Italian judge last week ordered the release of another migrant rescue ship, belonging to the Spanish aid group Proactiva Open Arms.
That boat had been seized in mid-March after NGO workers refused to hand over migrants saved during a rescue mission off the Libyan coast to the Libyan coast guard, instead delivering them to the Italian island of Sicily.
The judge argued that Libya “was not yet in a position to take in rescued migrants while ensuring their fundamental rights were respected” and considered that the NGO had acted “out of necessity.”
In recent days, more than 1,500 migrants were rescued off Libya and at least 11 people have died after boats capsized.