Pakistan's Supreme Court has ordered further investigations into corruption allegations against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, but ruled that he can remain in office for now.
Amid tight security, the five-member court panel ruled on April 20 that there is insufficient evidence to order Sharif's removal from office, and ordered the establishment of a joint investigation team.
"A thorough investigation is required," Justice Asif Saeed Khosa said as he announced the highly anticipated decision, which prompted an opposition call for Sharif to step down pending further probes.
The court in Islamabad launched a probe last year into Sharif's family's offshore wealth after his children were linked to accounts in the so-called Panama Papers leaks in 2015.
Sharif's critics have suggested that offshore companies were used to launder illegally obtained wealth or avoid taxes, and opposition politicians threatened to launch street protests if the allegations were not investigated.
Sharif and his family have denied any wrongdoing.
Muhammad Nawaz Sharif (file photo)
Hundreds of police officers surrounded the Supreme Court building as it delivered its highly anticipated verdict, and unauthorized people were barred from the area. Public and private transport was also kept away from nearby roads.
The court panel was split, with two judges recommending that Sharif should step down and three backing instead a further investigation.
The prime minister’s daughter, Maryam, tweeted a photo of the family and leaders of Sharif's PML-N party celebrating the verdict.
Information Minister Maryam Aurangzeb described the ruling as a "defeat for all those who have been levelling baseless allegations” against Sharif.
But Pakistan’s main opposition leader, Imran Khan, called on the prime minister to step down until the investigation is completed.
"How can he continue as prime minister when he is being investigated? What moral grounds does he have to continue in office?" Khan told reporters.
The joint investigation team is to include officials from the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the State Bank of Pakistan, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and Military Intelligence.
They are to issue a report about their probe within 60 days.
The new investigation team is to focus on how the family members transferred money from Pakistan to Qatar that was later allegedly used to buy property in London using offshore companies.
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, and Dawn