Pakistani newspaper Dawn has called on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to resign from the post. In an editorial titled “Mr Prime Minister, step aside”, it has referred to a report submitted by the Joint Investigation Team that is looking into the Panama Papers allegations against Sharif.

“Simply, no democratic order ought to have a prime minister operating under such a dark cloud of suspicion,” Dawn said, adding that Sharif staying in office and refuting the allegations made against him in the case would take a great toll on democracy.

“The prime minister has a clear alternative: step aside, fight whatever charges are brought against him or his children in court and, if he is eventually cleared of the charges, he can seek a return to office as the law permits,” read the editorial.

“To be sure, stepping aside now would not be an admission of guilt. It would, in fact, be a necessary sacrifice for the protection and strengthening of the democratic order. The country does not need and cannot afford the distraction of an incumbent prime minister fighting corruption charges in the courts.”

The Panama Papers case

The Pakistani Supreme Court had set up a JIT after Sharif was named, with several hundred others from cross the globe, in the Panama Papers leak in 2016. The leaked documents from Mossack Fonseca had revealed that three of his children owned offshore companies and undisclosed assets, including four expensive flats in Park Lane, London.

The panel had said it had found significant disparities in the income and actual wealth of Sharif and his family members and recommended filing a corruption case against them. This includes Sharif’s sons Hassan and Hussain Sharif and his daughter Maryam Sharif.

It also said there had been “irregular movement” of massive sums of money between Sharif and his sons from several companies in Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates. The panel said Sharif’s companies in the UK were loss-making and primarily engaged in moving funds around. These were used to justify buying properties in London.

Sharif and his family have criticised the report, calling it “trash”, and have continued to deny any wrongdoing. The government has also rubbished the report, though Opposition parties in Pakistan are now demanding the prime minister resignation.

Sharif continues to retain the status of a billionaire, and his declared assets stood at at 1.84 billion Pakistani rupees (Rs 1.13 billion) in 2016.