(Refiles to fix paragraph 7 spelling of "Panama")
By Saad Sayeed
ISLAMABAD, April 20 Police in riot gear on
Thursday surrounded Pakistan's highest court in the capital,
Islamabad, as it prepared to deliver a decision that could
unseat Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif over corruption allegations
related to the Panama Papers leaks.
Such a move would leave Sharif's party in power, but trigger
intense turmoil just when the economy is showing modest growth
and security has improved as the civilian government and the
powerful military have appeared to come to uneasy terms.
Police barred people from entering the court precincts as a
five-member bench prepared to hand down the highly anticipated
ruling at 2 p.m. (0900 GMT) after nearly two months of
deliberation and arguments.
Pakistan's stock market rose nearly 250 points on Thursday,
after having closed up 1.6 percent the previous day, showing
investors are confident the court will not rule Sharif
ineligible to be prime minister.
The case against Sharif stems from documents leaked from the
Panama-based Mossack Fonseca law firm, which appeared to show
that his daughter and two sons owned offshore holding companies
and used them to buy properties in London.
The "Panama Papers" were published last year by the
International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
"The prime minister's name was not in the ICIJ Panama
Papers, his children's were, and there's no connection between
the children's finances and his, because they file separate
taxes," said parliamentarian Danyal Aziz, a member of the ruling
Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N).
Last year, Sharif told parliament his family wealth was
acquired legally in the decades before he entered politics.
Interest in the case has remained intense, with Pakistani
television focusing on predictions about the decision and social
media circulating spurious versions of verdicts purported to
have been leaked.
(Reporting by Saad Sayeed; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)