Calibri controversy: Why a Microsoft font could topple Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif

A billboard shows the portrait of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif displayed at a main highway in Islamabad, Pakistan, July 10, 2017.
A billboard shows the portrait of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif displayed at a main highway in Islamabad, Pakistan, July 10, 2017. AP Photo/Anjum Naveed

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose family is accused of offshore tax evasion and ownership of illegal assets, is in hot water after investigators found that key documents purportedly signed by his politician daughter Maryam in 2006 made use of Microsoft’s Calibri typeface – which wasn’t made widely available to the public until 2007.

The Sharifs have been the subject of a corruption investigation ever since last year’s Panama Papers leak, which implicated them in a graft conspiracy.

On Tuesday, a columnist for Pakistani newspaper Dawn tweeted a screenshot from a report, created by an investigative team set up by the country’s Supreme Court, which lays bare the font faux-pas.

That specific section of the report laid out the conclusions of forensic handwriting expert Robert W. Radley of the London-based Radley Forensic Document Laboratory, Dawn reported.

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However, the Sharif clan’s supporters have claimed that the Calibri typeface was indeed available in 2006, prompting Dawn to do some digging.

“ reached out to Lucas de Groot, the designer credited with creating the font, to weigh in on whether the font was available in February 2006 (when the document was signed) or earlier, as claimed by Maryam Nawaz supporters, or 2007, as claimed by pretty much the rest of the internet,” read a Dawn follow-up report.

A representative for de Groot told Dawn that while beta versions of Calibri were in fact published in 2006, “early Windows betas are intended for programmers and technology freaks to see what works and what  doesn’t,” concluding that it is “extremely unlikely” that someone would access fonts on a beta version of Windows and copy them for use in official documents.

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Font consultant Thomas Phinney echoed those sentiments in a Quora post, stating, “Be aware that pre-release versions of Windows are not generally used for typical office documents; just because it is physically possible that Calibri could be in a random document dated to 2006 does not make it at all likely.”

Nonetheless, Sharif, who is serving his third term as prime minister, has written off the report’s legitimacy.

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“The JIT [Joint Investigative Team] report about our family businesses is the sum of hypotheses, accusations and slander,” Sharif said according to Reuters. “Accusations amounting to billions are being made here but no wrongdoing has been proven.”

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Opposition lawmakers have called on Sharif to resign. Meanwhile, Wikipedia has blocked people from editing its page on Calibri until July 18, in order to prevent rogue and inaccurate edits.

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