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Tuesday January 31, 2023

Revealing Toshakhana details may lead to undue media publicity: Cabinet Division

Court seeks affidavit from Toshakhana chief stating reasons that make details of deposited gifts classified

January 19, 2023
Lahore High Court building. — LHC website
Lahore High Court building. — LHC website

LAHORE: The disclosure of information regarding the gifts deposited in Toshakhana may lead to unnecessary media publicity and harm Pakistan’s ties with other countries, the Cabinet Division told the Lahore High Court (LHC) on Thursday.

The Cabinet Division said this in its reply to the LHC, submitted by the cabinet secretary during the hearing of a case seeking details of all the state gifts received by the prime ministers and presidents since 1947.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan is facing a scandal regarding the Toshakhana gifts for allegedly indulging in corrupt practices, which the former premier denies.

There are at least four cases currently under trial in four different courts related to the scandal.

The case in Lahore's court was filed by a citizen last year.

The cabinet secretary in his reply urged the to adjourn the hearing of the case till the federal cabinet approves the new Toshakhana policy.

The secretary also explained that as per a circular issued by the Prime Minister Office circular on November 26, 2015 details of Toshakhana gifts are classified. He also added that the disclosure of such information may harm Pakistan’s ties with other countries as well.

“We are developing new Toshakhana policy as per international practice. The prime minister has formed an inter-ministerial committee which submitted its suggestions on the policy,” he added.

The secretary also told the court that after approval from the Prime Minister Office the new Toshakhana bill was presented before the federal cabinet. He added that the bill is pending for approval.

Court seeks affidavit from Toshakhana chief

Meanwhile, the court directed the government's lawyer to submit an affidavit by Toshakhana chief — stating the reasons that make the details of gifts in the state depository classified.— within two weeks.

The justice asked for the lawyers' opinion on whether the documents containing details of the gifts are classified.

Responding to the question, the additional attorney general (AAG) maintained the Cabinet Division secretary has submitted their reply.

He said that Toshakhana was transferred from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Cabinet Division in 1973.

"These gifts are not presented by any Pakistani citizen," the AAG added.

At this, the court inquired what makes the details of items deposited in Toshakhana classified if the gifts can be sold.

"The court won't disclose the details if an affidavit is submitted that these are classified. The court may also draw a line that what particular details can be shared and what not," Justice Hafeez remarked

He directed the AAG to state reasons that make the details classified.

At this, the government's counsel requested the court to give time for the submission of the affidavit.

Responding to the request, the court told the AAG that he will also provide the records with the affidavit, for which the court will hold an in-camera hearing.

Later, the court adjourned the hearing till February 7. 

It should be noted that a similar case is under trial in Islamabad High Court (IHC) as well. Last month, the IHC sought a report from the Cabinet Division on gifts received by PMs, presidents since the creation of Pakistan after the body refused to provide information to the petitioner as it was "classified". 

What is the Toshkhana?

According to the law, whenever a head of state receives a gift from another state or country, they have to give it in to the Toshakhana. If they wish to keep the gift, they have to pay an amount equal to its value which is decided through an auction.

These gifts either remain deposited in the Toshakhana or can be auctioned and the money acquired through it is to be deposited to the national treasury.

The Toshakhana is under the microscope ever since it has emerged that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan purchased the gifts he received as prime minister and sold them off.

The PTI chief is being accused of being involved in corrupt practices, which the former premier denies.