PTI accepted illegal donations, ECP rules

— Commission asks party to explain why it shouldn’t confiscate prohibited funds

— Habib says PTI will contest decision

ISLAMABAD: Announcing its verdict in the so-called prohibited funding case involving Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) declared the party of former prime minister Imran Khan in fact accepted millions of dollars from what it ruled were prohibited sources.

The top electoral agency ruled the party received funds from 34 foreign nationals — including Arif Naqvi, a billionaire financier and former boss of now-defunct Abraaj private equity firm — and some 351 businesses many of whom were based in Australia, Canada, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Cayman Islands.

It added that during the probe, the party took ownership of eight accounts but kept 13 hidden. Hiding such information from the ECP is a violation of Article 17 of the Constitution, the agency said.

Last week, an investigation by the Financial Times said Naqvi “transferred three instalments directly to the PTI in 2013 adding up to a total of $2.12m.”

“Abraaj emails and internal documents […] including a bank statement covering the period between February 28 and May 30, 2013, for a Wootton Cricket [an Abraaj subsidiary] account in the UAE, show that both companies and foreign nationals, as well as citizens of Pakistan, sent millions of dollars to Wootton Cricket — before money was transferred from the account to Pakistan for the PTI,” the FT reported.

The commission said that financial details submitted by Khan were found to be “grossly inaccurate”. The party has denied the accusations.

It also issued a show-cause notice to PTI to explain why it should not seize funds the party received, the Associated Press of Pakistan reported.

Pending since 2014, the verdict of the closely-watched case was reserved by the commission in June. Since then, the ruling Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) coalition has been demanding that it be released “immediately” to “expose” the party’s chair.

According to a report submitted to the ECP in January by a scrutiny committee probing the matter, the party hid funds worth millions of rupees from the commission.

The report went on to claim the PTI had provided “false information” regarding its funding to the ECP, adding that a State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) statement had revealed the party had received Rs1.64 billion in funding and had not disclosed Rs310 million of it to the ECP.

The case was earlier referred to as the “foreign funding” case, but later the election commission accepted the PTI’s plea to refer to it as the “prohibited funding” case.

The person who filed the complaint, party founder Akbar S. Babar, hailed the ruling.

“All the accusations against Imran Khan have been proven,” Babar, who fell out with Khan, told reporters, adding that Khan should step down from the party.

The ECP released the cause list for the case on Monday. The list showed the verdict will be announced by a three-member bench led by Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja.

PTI TO CONTEST DECISION

Meanwhile, the PTI has decided to challenge the verdict in the Supreme Court.

Speaking to the press after the ruling was announced, Farrukh Habib, the party’s central deputy secretary for information, called the verdict a victory of the party narrative that “this was not a foreign funding case rather a case about funding from prohibited channels.”

He further said that those who propelled the narrative of the case being about “foreign funding” were disappointed the PTI, as a party, was not suspended. “We will give a befitting response to the [showcause] notice,” he announced.

Raising questions over the election commission, Habib noted the Islamabad High Court (IHC) ordered an indiscriminate probe into the accounts of all the political parties.

While the scrutiny committee tasked in 2018 to probe the accounts of PTI completed its work on time, a similar committee established around the same period to investigate the accounts of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) was yet to submit its findings.

Taking over the press conference from Habib, Fawad Chaudhry, the party’s senior vice president, said that most of the amount mentioned in the verdict was in fact sent from Pakistan nationals living abroad.

“I don’t understand why PML-N, JUI-F [Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl] and PPP have declared overseas Pakistanis as an enemy,” he said.

Seperately, in a tweet, Chaudhry said the party had taken funds from “overseas Pakistanis”, not foreign nationals.

“Overseas Pakistanis are the backbone of Pakistan’s economy, and we would continue to rely on them for funding,” Chaudhry told reporters.

Meanwhile, a third leader, Barrister Maleeka Bokhari, said pro-government media groups “lost hope” today. She said the PTI was not the kind of party to accept foreign funding, however, the “propaganda” against it on similar lines was furthered for years.

— With Reuters, AFP

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