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Scandal Threatens To End Career Of Daughter Of Pakistan Prime Minister


In Pakistan, a corruption scandal is threatening to bring down the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif. It could also end the political career of his media-savvy daughter, Maryam Sharif. She has pushed to improve the lives of women there. Many Pakistanis expect her to take over from her father, which is why some are cheering for her downfall. NPR's Diaa Hadid reports from Islamabad.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: I'm standing outside Pakistan's Supreme Court. This normally staid place is the scene of Pakistan's biggest drama right now. Blue-clad police line the roads, and about two dozen journalists are crammed as close as they can to the entryway. You can hear the whir of their satellite trucks in the background as they broadcast live because it's in this building where the fate of the prime minister will be decided.

AMBER SHAMSI: Offshore company, tax evasion, money laundering, prime minister's children - dun-dun (ph), headlines.

HADID: That's Amber Shamsi. She's a TV presenter with Dawn, the leading English news group. Long-standing questions about the finances of the family of the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif were triggered after revelations in the Panama Papers. They showed Sharif's children linked to expensive apartments in London. The scandal is particularly embarrassing for his daughter Maryam. During the court investigation, Maryam submitted papers showing she was the trustee of one of those apartments, not the owner. The document from 2006 was written in Calibri, the default Microsoft Word font.

SHAMSI: The font that this document was written in was not available before - for public use or general use before 2006, but it was widely available after 2007. And bam, that's when font gate happened.

HADID: A court-appointed investigation committee concluded that...

SHAMSI: Maryam had lied to the court, falsified documents. And this is a criminal offense. And this could possibly mean jail.

HADID: But for some in Pakistan, Maryam is a breath of fresh air in contrast to the staid male politicians around her. She not only whipped up crowds campaigning for her father in the last elections...


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Maryam Nawaz Sharif (foreign language spoken).

HADID: ...But also tweets to her 3.5 million followers regularly as well. And once her father became prime minister...

SHAMSI: She was very, very active behind getting an anti-honor killing bill passed in the major main house of Parliament. Much of the pro-women's legislation has been attributed to Maryam Nawaz as well.

HADID: Ammara Durrani, a political analyst, says now many are cheering for the downfall of the prime minister's daughter. She's become shorthand for a tradition in Pakistan of dynastic politics, which they say has stunted democracy here.

AMMARA DURRANI: The reason why Maryam Sharif has received so much single-minded opposition from her detractors is because she was seen to have emerged as the most likely successor for Nawaz Sharif in the upcoming elections.

HADID: But in a working-class market, some have a different view. Her father is popular among Pakistan's poor because he's seen as repairing roads and fixing the shoddy power. Consider Johnston Bashir, who sells rat poison in this market. He likes the red public buses that recently began running in Islamabad.

JOHNSTON BASHIR: (Foreign language spoken).

HADID: They're air conditioned and cost about two cents a ride. And if Maryam Sharif can convince people that she'll continue that agenda, she may yet survive despite the scandal. Diaa Hadid, NPR News, Islamabad.