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ECP Finds PTI Received Prohibited Funds

Electoral body, in unanimous verdict, issues show-case notice to party after finding it received funds from 34 foreign entities

by Newsweek Pakistan

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The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Tuesday announced its verdict in the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)’s prohibited funding case—popularly known as the foreign funding case—declaring that the party was guilty of accepting prohibited funds, having received funds from at least 34 foreigners in the data examined by a scrutiny committee, as well as Abraaj founder Arif Naqvi.

The verdict also noted that the PTI had not disclosed 13 of its accounts to the ECP, keeping them hidden while only providing details of 8. The ECP also issued a show-cause notice to the PTI to explain why the prohibited funds should not be confiscated, adding that PTI chief Imran Khan had submitted a “grossly inaccurate” declaration with the electoral body, which is in violation of the Constitution.

“PTI Pakistan knowingly and willfully received donations from Wooton Cricket Ltd., registered in Cayman Islands, which was operated and owned by a business tycoon, Arif Mahmood Naqvi, the owner of Abraaj Group. The respondent party was willing recipient of prohibited money of $2,121,500,” it said. Similarly, it said, the PTI had received $49,965 from Bristol Engineering Services, a U.A.E.-based company, in violation of Pakistani laws. The PTI also received funds from foreign companies based in Switzerland, the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia, it said.

“PTI Pakistan has also been found to be beneficiary of donations by Romita Shetty, a U.S.-based businesswoman of Indian origin. An amount of $13,750 donated by Romita Shetty is hit by prohibition on donations by foreign nationals and in violation of Pakistani laws,” it said.

“The chairman of PTI for financial year 2008-09 to 2012-12 (five years) has submitted Form-I, which were found to be grossly inaccurate on the basis of the financial statements obtained by this commission from SBP and other material available on record,” it added.

The unanimous verdict was announced by a three-member bench led by Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja, a little over a month after it had been reserved following completion of nearly 8 years of hearings. During the final hearing on June 21, petitioner Akbar S. Babar—a founding member of the PTI—brought in a financial expert who briefed the ECP on how audit principles and standards had been violated in the PTI’s record-keeping for its funds. According to Babar, the PTI’s donors were not third parties, but rather companies created by the party’s leadership to hide the source of its funding.

Filed on Nov. 14, 2014 by Babar, the foreign funding case has been a target of ire from both the PTI and its rival parties. After initially arguing that the ECP has no basis to hear the case, the PTI has in recent years started claiming it is being discriminated against and the prohibited funding cases of all parties should be decided simultaneously. The ECP has, however, maintained that the case against the PTI has been pending the longest, adding that a probe into the accounts of other major parties is ongoing and would be decided expeditiously.

Nearly 4 years after the petition was filed by Babar, the ECP formed a scrutiny committee in March 2018 to examine the PTI’s sources of funding. Another four years were to pass before the committee submitted its report to the ECP—on Jan. 4—following 95 hearings. According to the report, which cites eight volumes of record requisitioned through the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), the PTI had committed gross violations of funding laws by allowing the collection of millions of dollars and billions of rupees from foreigners, including Indian nationals and foreign companies.

The report rubbished the PTI’s claims of receiving all it’s funding from Pakistani nationals, finding that not only had the party received funding from foreign nationals and companies, but had also willfully concealed dozens of its bank accounts from the ECP. It also noted that the party had refused to provide details of large transactions and had not provided details of PTI’s foreign accounts and the funds collected abroad. According to the report, the PTI did not provide details of Rs. 312 million in funding over a four-year period—2009-2013—with over Rs. 145 million unreported in fiscal year 2012-13 alone. The report also questioned four PTI employees receiving donations in their personal accounts, but noted probing individual accounts was beyond its ambit.

Ahead of the verdict’s announcement, security in Islamabad’s ‘Red Zone’ was put on high alert, with a large deployment of police to prevent unrest.

Challenging verdict

The PTI has already announced it would challenge the verdict, reiterating that it had already expressed reservations about the incumbent ECP’s conduct. PTI’s Khan has, for several months, been demanding CEC Raja’s resignation, accusing him of being biased towards the PMLN. “We don’t trust the ECP head and he has been imposed on us,” he said of the top official that his government had nominated for the post of ECP chief.

The party has already got resolutions against the CEC passed from the Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa assemblies, where it has the majority, and has also announced intent to move a reference against CEC Raja in the judicial commission. Khan had also announced—prior to the verdict being announced—that the PTI would stage a protest outside the ECP office in Islamabad on Thursday to call for the CEC’s resignation.

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