Pakistan's Supreme Court on Thursday refused to convict Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for corruption related to his involvement in the so-called Panama Papers case, but issued an order for the formation of joint investigation team (JIT) to probe his alleged involvement in corruption.
In a judgement that was split 3-2 in the 5-judge bench, the court cited insufficient evidence to disqualify Sharif from the office of prime minister.
A five-judge bench, comprising Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, Justice Gulzar Ahmed, Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, Justice Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijazul Ahsan, delivered the landmark judgement after examining arguments presented in the case.
The 540-page verdict had two dissenting notes by Justice Khosa and Justice Gulzar, who said that Sharif should be disqualified.
The JIT, which will have members from various government agencies, including the ISI, has been given two months to complete the probe into alleged corruption by the Sharif family.
The court directed Sharif and his two sons - Hasan and Hussain - to appear before the JIT.
The JIT will present fortnightly reports before the bench.
The case was launched on 3 November and the court held 35 hearings before concluding proceedings on 23 February.
The case was based on several identical petitions by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan and others about alleged illegal assets of the Sharif family in London.
The collection of leaked Panama papers showed that the offshore companies owned by Shariff's children managed huge funds.
The petitioners wanted the court to disqualify 67-year-old Sharif under Article 62 and 63 of the constitution because he was involved in corruption.
Sharif 's supporters hailed the decisions as a victory of justice.
"We have been vindicated as Prime Minister had last year asked to set up a probe commission to investigate Panama leaks scandal," said Khawaja Asif, defence minister and close ally of Prime Minister Sharif.
Earlier, the area around the Supreme Court, located in Islamabad's Red Zone, was put on 'red alert', with around 1,500 police, rangers and frontier constabulary personnel deployed for security and maintaining peace.
While the split verdict comes as a temporary reprieve for Sharif, the court has ordered extensive probe into the money trail in the Panama Papers scandal.