The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) ruling in the prohibited funding case has established beyond a shadow of a doubt that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) acquired funding from foreign entities which is prohibited under Pakistan’s laws. This case has fully exposed the hypocrisy of a leader who accuses the current government of being ‘imported’ but whose own party was built and run on foreign funding.
Akbar S Babar, a former member of the PTI, had filed a petition in the ECP in 2014 against irregularities in party funds, on which the ECP’s scrutiny committee held 96 court hearings and established that millions of dollars had indeed been transferred to certain PTI bank accounts through two offshore companies, and that the PTI had kept these bank accounts hidden from the ECP.
Article 17 (3) of the Constitution, Articles 3, 4, 5, and 6 of Political Parties Order 2002, Sections 200, 204, 207, 210, 212, and 2013 of Election Act 2017, and Rule 160 of Election Rules 2017 —deal with the process of establishment of political parties, their membership fee, contributions and donations, information about the sources of funds, confiscation of prohibited funds, dissolution of a political party, and the consequences of the dissolution.
According to Political Parties Order 2002, a member of a political party can pay a membership fee as provided in the party’s constitution and can also make voluntary contributions towards the party’s funds. However, “any contribution made, directly or indirectly, by any foreign government, multinational or domestically incorporated public or private company, firm, trade or professional association shall be prohibited and the parties may accept contributions and donations only from individuals.” It further stipulates that any contribution or donation which is prohibited under this Order shall be confiscated in favour of the state in the manner as may be prescribed.
Section 204 of the Election Act 2017 makes similar provisions under which individual party members are allowed to pay a membership fee and make contributions or donations to the political party’s funds, but “[a]ny contribution or donation made, directly or indirectly, by any foreign source including any foreign government, multi-national or public or private company, firm, trade or professional association or individual shall be prohibited.”
According to Article 17 (3) of the Constitution of Pakistan, “every political party shall account for the source of its funds in accordance with the law.”
Narrating the saga of the ‘foreign funding case,’ in an interview with the news website Naya Daur, Akbar S Babar said that he developed differences with Imran Khan precisely on the issue of irregularities in party funding.
“We decided to get a special audit done. I demanded a committee should be formed headed by Justice (retd) Wajihuddin. The committee should then examine all the complaints of financial irregularities and the committee’s decision should be acceptable to everyone. Moreover, the decision should not be at the discretion of the party’s chairman and he should not have the right to interfere at all.”
Babar informed Naya Daur that the special audit was sanctioned in March 2013 by Imran Khan and its report proved the allegations of foreign funding of PTI true. However, despite getting all the facts, Imran Khan failed to rid the party of people involved in financial irregularities, which was the main cause of Babar’s differences with his party’s chief. Babar said he remained silent from 2011 to 2014 but seeing no accountability within the PTI, decided to file a petition with the ECP in November 2014. His petition sought an investigation into ‘serious financial malpractices’ in the party’s funding from both Pakistan and abroad, in violation of the country’s political parties law. He also sought accountability for those responsible for these corrupt practices.
On 14 January 2015, the ECP issued a notice asking Babar to appear before the commission and present evidence in support of his allegations. On 1 April 2015, the ECP asked the PTI to submit details of the funds it received from abroad. The commission also instructed ECP officials to look afresh into PTI’s annual statement of assets to find out whether or not the party got funds from the US.
After eight long years of investigations and court hearings, the ECP ruled in a unanimous verdict on 2 August 2022 that the PTI did take prohibited funding. It issued a notice to the party asking why the funds should not be confiscated and directed the federal government to investigate the PTI’s prohibited funding case and send the report to the ECP. The electoral watchdog said that the party knowingly accepted donations from 351 foreign companies and 34 foreign nationals via two limited liability companies (LLCs) based in the US, as well as the UK, Canada, and other countries.
The electoral watchdog said the party had owned only eight accounts before the commission and declared 13 accounts to be unknown. “The data obtained from the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) revealed that all the 13 accounts disowned by the PTI were opened and operated by senior PTI management and leadership at the central and provincial levels.” Moreover, the PTI chairman submitted Form-I for five years (between 2008-2013), which was found to be “grossly inaccurate on the basis of the financial statements obtained by this commission from the SBP and other material available on record.”
The ECP has determined that several foreign nationals made contributions to PTI, including Indian-American investment banker Romita Shetty, who gave $13,750 from her account in Singapore. Shetty is a US-based businesswoman of Indian origin.
As per the ECP judgement, the PTI received a total of $549,000 from one of its LLCs, 6160, in the US between May to April 2013. Of this, $70,960 were contributed by foreign nationals and companies. Through this LLC, 21 foreign nationals gave $16,205 to the PTI and 120 foreign companies gave $54,755 to the party.
From another US-based LLC, 5975, the PTI received and accepted donations worth $1,976,500, with contributions from 13 foreign nationals and 231 US-based companies.
The ECP found that between 2008 and 2013, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Canada Corporation — a company based in Canada — transferred large sums to different PTI accounts.
Moreover, the PTI received $2,151,500 from Arif Naqvi’s Wootton Cricket Limited, which is based in the United Arab Emirates, a sum of $49,965 from Dubai-based Bristol Engineering, Rs504,250 from Australia’s Dupnec Pty Limited and other companies.
The issue also received considerable media coverage both locally and internationally. In July 2022, the Financial Times published an eye-opening report detailing how PTI directly benefited from foreign funding.
Arif Naqvi, the founder of the Dubai-based Abraaj Group, organised a cricket tournament at Wootton, a village in Oxfordshire, the United Kingdom, for a weekend. At the event, guests were asked to pay between £2,000 and £2,500 each. The money, it added, was said to go to “philanthropic causes.” The report stated that between February 28 and May 30, 2013, the account maintained by Wootton Cricket Ltd received millions of dollars from local and foreign citizens, and the money was diverted towards the PTI.
Meanwhile, the ECP’s scrutiny committee identified Wootton Cricket Ltd as a company sending funds to Pakistan. In its January report, the ECP said Wootton Cricket had transferred $2.12 million to the PTI but didn’t reveal the source of the money.
“A Pakistani NGO or company cannot fund a political party, so how come a foreign company and a foreign national could fund PTI?” said Babar in the interview. He added that a party that receives money from a foreign company or a foreign national must face serious consequences. According to the law, the party’s money and assets can be seized or the party can be dissolved in which case its members of parliament stand disqualified for the rest of the term.
Soon after the ECP verdict, the federal cabinet announced its decision to send a declaration against PTI and its leadership to the Supreme Court and directed the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to launch an inquiry against the party leaders to start criminal proceedings against them on the charges of money-laundering and misuse of charity funds for political purposes. The inquiry is still pending with the FIA.
The PTI did not respond to ECP’s notice asking why the funds obtained from prohibited sources should not be confiscated. Instead, it moved the Islamabad High Court against the ECP’s judgment, claiming that the party had been singled out by the ECP. It stated that the Supreme Court had examined the matter and referred it back to the ECP for scrutiny of the accounts of all political parties, including the PTI. “Sadly, only PTI was targeted,” it said. However, the IHC dismissed PTI’s petition in February 2023 and said the ECP’s fact-finding report in the case was correct and also endorsed its decision to issue a show-cause notice to the party.
It seems that PTI’s day of reckoning is near. Imran Khan’s carefully crafted image of piety and moral superiority is gradually tearing apart as evidence emerges that he wilfully ignored blatant financial wrongdoings within his party and accepted funds from companies and nationals of foreign countries. As they say, a lie has speed, but truth has endurance. The truth is finally coming out.
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