A corruption case against Pakistan’s prime minister hinges on his family’s use of the wrong font

Quartz india
Quartz india

Choosing the wrong font can be disastrous. But illegible résumés and confusing road signage seem trivial compared with the unfolding “Fontgate” that threatens to bring down Pakistan’s prime minister Nawaz Sharif. The billionaire industrialist and three-term prime minister is learning a bitter graphic design lesson as a corruption and money laundering case against him now hinges on the misuse of the Microsoft Office typeface Calibri.

Sharif, who was once dismissed from office for corruption, is under investigation after offshore accounts in his family’s name were discovered in the Panama Papers leaked last April. In his defense, Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz submitted “original copies” of two certified documents dated February 2006, refuting ownership of several plush London properties in question. The damning detail: the papers were typeset in Calibri, a font that was not publicly available until a year later.

A motorcyclist drives past a billboard showing the portrait of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at a main highway in Islamabad, Pakistan, Monday, July 10, 2017. Pakistani authorities concluded an anti-graft probe into corruption allegations against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's family and the investigators' report was handed over to the Supreme Court on Monday, officials said. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)
Embattled Nawaz Sharif. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)
Specimen. (Lucas De Groot)

Calibri replaced Times New Roman as Microsoft Office’s default font on January 2007. The sans serif typeface was first available on a beta version of Microsoft Office for developers on June 2006, four months after Maryam allegedly signed the papers, as Newsweek elaborates.

Fontgate’s hero is the keen-eyed British forensic document examiner Robert Radley. Working with Radley’s lab in Reading in the UK, Pakistan’s joint investigation team concluded that the documents were falsified to mislead the court “beyond any doubt.”

Since the font gaffe was publicized earlier this week, 40 revisions have been made to Calibri’s Wikipedia page, including a reference to the corruption case. Administrators have now locked the page to prevent any changes until July 18.

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Lockdown. (Wikipedia, accessed July 13.)

With Pakistan’s fate seeming to rest on the exact provenance of the humanist typeface created by Dutch designer Lucas de Groot, thousands referred to Calibri’s page. Wikipedia editor Saqib Qayyum tells Quartz that the page had 150,000 views between July 11–12. That’s an impressive traffic spike from the usual 500 or so visits from font nerds on any day.

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