Future Tense

A Font Is at the Heart of Pakistan’s Prime Minister’s Legal Troubles

Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, arrives to appear before an anti-corruption commission at the Federal Judicial Academy in Islamabad on July 5, 2017.  

AFP/Getty Images

A font might just be the political death knell for Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is currently embroiled in legal troubles that began with a 2016 leak of documents popularly known as the Panama Papers. According to a report of a joint investigation team probing the source of Sharif’s family wealth, a property deed dated 2006 was typed in Microsoft’s Calibri font. That’s mysterious, because the font apparently did not debut until 2007.

The investigation team asked the U.K.-based Forensic Handwriting & Document Examiner to investigate the documents. The final report says that the examiner “proves, beyond any doubt that presented documents by respondents in the Supreme Court and the documents presented to the [joint investigation team] by Ms. Maryam Safdar were falsified to mislead the Court to believe that they were signed in 2006, whereas they could not have been typed in that font in that year as it was not yet introduced.”

And so Calibri, a default Microsoft Word font frequently replaced by its colleagues Times New Roman and Arial, has become central to the investigation into whether the Pakistani prime minister’s daughter Maryam fabricated documents to make it look like her family had properly disclosed details of their wealth to relevant authorities.

Staff from the Pakistani newspaper Dawn spoke with the creator of the Calibri font shortly after the report was released. “As far as I know, the first public beta versions of Calibri were published in 2006. We do not know the exact date for this public release date [but] it is [still] extremely unlikely that somebody would copy fonts from a beta environment to use in official documents,” Lucas de Groot told the paper last week.

Pakistanis on Twitter were quick to mock the Sharif family’s lapse of judgment, and the hashtag #CalibriGate soon went viral, with tweets like, “Always do corruption in Arial,” “#Calibri is our very own Covfefe,” and “Cause of Death: Calibri.” Memes of Prime Minister Sharif with Microsoft founder Bill Gates also made the rounds on social media.

The Calibri Wikipedia page was also bombarded by attempted edits to include the font’s significant role in exposing foul play at the hands of the Prime Minister and his family. The Wikipedia page is currently restricted “from editing until July 18, 2017, or until editing disputes have been resolved.”

But at least they didn’t use Comic Sans, right?