Pakistan’s Supreme Court has disqualified Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from holding public office following an investigation into corruption allegations.
Mr Sharif has consistently denied any wrongdoing in the case.
The verdict was handed down unanimously by a five-member bench in the court.
The court was filled to capacity on Friday, and there was heightened security in the capital, with tens of thousands of troops and police deployed.
One of the judges at the Supreme Court, Ejaz Afzal Khan, said that Mr Sharif was no longer “eligible to be an honest member of the parliament”, Reuters news agency reports.
Pakistan’s Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan earlier advised Mr Sharif to accept Friday’s verdict.
The court has recommended anti-corruption cases against several individuals, including Mr Sharif, his daughter Maryam and her husband Safdar, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and others.
Mr Sharif, who was serving as prime minister for a record third time, was less than a year away from becoming the first in Pakistani history to complete a full term in office.
He served as prime minister from November 1990 to July 1993 and from February 1997 until he was toppled in a bloodless coup in October 1999.
No civilian prime minister of Pakistan has ever completed a five-year term.
Allegations of corruption have chased Mr Sharif since the 1980s. And much of what the Panama Papers revealed was the subject of a federal inquiry in the mid-1990s.
What did the Panama Papers reveal?
The leaks in April 2016 revealed that three of Mr Sharif’s children owned offshore companies and assets not shown on his family’s wealth statement.
The companies were allegedly used to channel funds to acquire foreign assets, including some apartments along Park Lane in London’s Mayfair area.
The insinuation that the companies were meant to hide or launder ill-gotten wealth or to avoid taxes called Mr Sharif’s credentials into question.
What is the mood in Pakistan?
Local media on Friday showed crowds assembled outside the Supreme Court in Islamabad cheering the court’s verdict.
It was announced amid heightened security in the capital, with about 3,000 armed police and members of the Pakistan Rangers paramilitary force deployed near and around the Supreme Court.
The ruling represents the peak of a drama that has fuelled news coverage and social media debates for months, attracting both scorn and ridicule as well as trenchant support for the prime minister.
The divisions fall largely along party lines but amid the febrile accusations, many have also expressed concerns over Pakistan’s political culture.
The Wikipedia profile of the prime minister has also been rewritten, dated late Thursday evening and littered with obscenities and accusations.
~ Albert Einstein