News and Music Discovery
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

How A Microsoft Font Could Take Down A Prime Minister Caught Up In A Scandal


It's often said that what brings down a politician is not a crime but the cover-up. People use that saying in the United States and may be near using it in Pakistan. The prime minister of one of the world's largest countries, a nuclear-armed nation, is also a businessman. He faces questions about the wealth his family accumulated while he was also governing. And the effort to come up with documents that clear his family's name may have been snagged by an unfortunate choice of type font. NPR's Diaa Hadid is in Islamabad with the story of the prime minister and Calibri, which is the font in question. Hi, Diaa.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Hi there, Steve.

INSKEEP: Hi. We've been so absorbed in American news, we should just remember, who is the prime minister of Pakistan?

HADID: Right. The prime minister of Pakistan is Nawaz Sharif. It's the third time he's prime minister. He's a political survivor who's just had this rise and rise over the past few decades in Pakistan. And during that time, his family has accumulated a lot of wealth. And there's constantly been a question about the Sharif family wealth. How did they obtain it?

INSKEEP: Well, how does he say that he - his family obtained the wealth?

HADID: Right. So the family says through their sugar and steel businesses, but other people question whether it was Nawaz Sharif's access to loans and money and business deals that enabled the family to grow so enormously wealthy during this time.

INSKEEP: Wait a minute. So we've got a guy who's been doing business at the same time he's been governing. And - what? - the question is transparency? Where does his governing end and where does his business begin?

HADID: It's less about Nawaz Sharif personally because there's not much that can be pinned on him, but it's more about his children. And perhaps the most interesting and dramatic case is of his daughter, Maryam Sharif, who's seen as the heir to the political dynasty that he has created. And for years, there were questions being asked about these four apartments that the family has in London. And one of them - it is said here - is in her name. And so when this scandal erupted - and it erupted last May with the Panama Papers - Maryam Sharif tried to clear the family name and specifically her name by submitting documents that said that she was merely a trustee.

INSKEEP: Wait a minute. I think you've mentioned documents, so I'm wondering, is this where Calibri begins to play a role here?

HADID: So this has to be the nerdiest part of this whole investigation. And this is really what's caught the attention of Pakistanis here. Maryam Sharif submitted a document to the courts in which she said prove that she didn't own one of these apartments in London. She insisted she was merely a trustee and these papers would prove it. The problem is the document was dated back to February 2006, and it uses the Calibri font.


HADID: So the investigation committee hired a forensic font detective. Yes, these actually exist.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) Go on. Go on. Please.

HADID: And so he said that the Calibri font didn't become widely commercially available until 2007. This is something people latch onto. There's jokes about Pakistan being Sans Sharif.


HADID: Get it? Get it?

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

HADID: And, know, it's like - it's just this kind of black humor. And so after the investigative committee handed over its documents to Supreme Court, this week, they held their first hearing to really decide, you know, should they disqualify Nawaz Sharif? And this is now what Pakistanis are waiting for.

INSKEEP: Diaa, is it really possible that the prime minister of Pakistan could lose his job over the kind of mistake that trips up the bad guy in one of those old "Encyclopedia Brown" children's books?

HADID: It's really possible. Only a few years ago, another prime minister of Pakistan was disqualified from his position because of contempt of court. The Supreme Court in Pakistan occupies an odd place. It's independent, and it tries to assert its power. And it often will hold up prime ministers as an example of how it's independent. So it may well be that Nawaz Sharif could lose his job in a few weeks.

INSKEEP: NPR's Diaa Hadid in Islamabad. Thank you.

HADID: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Diaa Hadid chiefly covers Pakistan and Afghanistan for NPR News. She is based in NPR's bureau in Islamabad. There, Hadid and her team were awarded a Murrow in 2019 for hard news for their story on why abortion rates in Pakistan are among the highest in the world.