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Scandal-hit Pakistan finance minister takes sick leave

Pakistan’s finance minister Ishaq Dar came under the radar of an inquiry sparked by the Panama Papers leak last year which centered on discrepancies between the income of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his lavish lifestyle. (Reuters)
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s finance minister Ishaq Dar has gone on indefinite medical leave amid an ongoing corruption scandal, piling more pressure on the beleaguered government ahead of elections due next year.
Dar came under the radar of an inquiry sparked by the Panama Papers leak last year which centered on discrepancies between the income of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his lavish lifestyle, particularly his family properties in London.
A finance ministry official confirmed to AFP Thursday that Dar has applied for and been granted the leave.
Local reports have said he is suffering from a heart condition. Images showing him on a hospital bed in the UK were published in local media earlier this month.
“He has not resigned from his job, nor anybody else has been appointed as finance minister,” the official said on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to media.
The Supreme Court ousted Sharif over the investigation this summer, and an accountability court is now trying him on charges that could see him thrown in jail.
The scandal has left his ruling Pakistan Muslim League under pressure ahead of general elections due to be held sometime next year, with the allegations against Dar adding to the heat.
The Supreme Court has also reopened a 17-year-old case against Sharif in which Dar admitted to money laundering for him. He later claimed that he made the confession under duress by the military government of General Pervez Musharraf.
Analyst Hasan Askari said the prime minister can grant leave to a minister, who technically retains his post, status and privileges during the period of absence.
“It is in fact a face-saving formula that they have devised, otherwise he deserved to be knocked out anyhow,” Askari said, referring to the corruption allegations.
The government in a statement late Wednesday said that GDP growth of 5.3 percent in the last fiscal year was the highest in ten years, and predicted it was on track to hit or even surpass 6.0 percent this year.
It also noted an increase in the tax-to-GDP ratio and a decrease in the fiscal deficit.
A recent World Bank report said Pakistan’s economy continues to grow, but cautioned that vulnerabilities were beginning to emerge, with its international reserves under stress due to a high and widening trade deficit, among other challenges.

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