Pakistan's Supreme Court has ruled there was insufficient evidence to oust Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif over corruption allegations, but has ordered a high-level investigation into the charges.
"A thorough investigation is required", Justice Asif Saeed Khosasaid.
The court panel was split, with two judges recommending that Sharif should step down and three backing instead a further investigation. At the centre of the issue was the legitimacy of the funds that the prime minister's family used to purchase some of its high-end properties in London via offshore companies, media reports said.
Sharif's ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party says the wealth was acquired legally through family businesses in Pakistan and the Gulf.
Pakistani opposition leader and Chief of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, Imran Khan, arrives at the Supreme Court, in Islamabad, April 20, 2017.
The case was based on several identical petitions by Khan and others about alleged illegal assets of the family Prime Minister Sharif in London.
After nearly two months of reserving the decision regarding the Panama papers hearing, the Supreme Court (SC) finally revealed the big decision. If the Supreme Court announces punitive measures against Sharif or his family members as part of the decision, it may lead to a serious crisis in government.
The final verdict saw two dissenting notes in the five-judge bench, with Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Gulzar Ahmed ruling against Sharif, saying he should be disqualified, while the other three were in favour of forming a Joint Investigation Team for a fresh probe.
Sharif's party would have remained in power even if the verdict had ordered for the removal of the prime minister. All opposition parties are demanding Sharif resign while the JIT probes his family's finances, because they claim that state institutions can be subject to manipulation by the prime minister.
The JIT will present its report before the bench after every two weeks.
Before the ruling, Maryam Sharif thanked her father's supporters on her official Twitter account. Observers have called the case important for Pakistan, which ranked a lowly 116th out of 176 countries in a corruption index released by Transparency International in January.
Prime Minister Sharif's governement was sacked by then President Ghulam Ishaq Khan for alleged corruption in April, 1993.
Aurangzeb said the Supreme Court had rejected the prayers of the petitioners.
It also said DG Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) failed to probe white collar crimes. "After the Supreme Court's decision, Sharif's party should have asked him to resign but they are distributing candies to declare victory", Khan said.
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