LONDON: The Financial Times (FT) has revealed in an investigation that Abraaj founder Arif Naqvi’s Cayman Islands-incorporated company Wootton Cricket Ltd was used to bankroll Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) after receiving funds from companies and individuals including at least £2mn in April 2013 from an influential Arab figure.
The FT said in its report: “Pakistan forbids foreign nationals and companies from funding political parties, but Abraaj emails and internal documents seen by the Financial Times, including a bank statement covering the period between February 28 and May 30 2013 for a Wootton Cricket 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 Election Commission of Pakistan has been investigating the funding of the PTI for more than seven years. In January, the ECP’s scrutiny committee issued a damning report in which it said the PTI received funding from foreign nationals and companies and accused it of under-reporting funds and concealing dozens of bank accounts. Wootton Cricket was named in the report, but Naqvi wasn’t identified as its owner.
The FT claimed in its report by journalist Simon Clark that PTI’s foreign funding case has been alive for several years and Pakistani authorities were aware that Arif Naqvi funded the PTI but the ultimate source of the money was being disclosed for the first time.
The report said: “Wootton Cricket’s bank statement shows it received $1.3mn on March 14 2013 from Abraaj Investment Management Ltd, the fund management unit of Naqvi’s private equity firm, boosting the account’s previous balance of $5,431. Later the same day, $1.3mn was transferred from the account directly to a PTI bank account in Pakistan. Abraaj expensed the cost to a holding company through which it controlled K-Electric, the power provider to Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city. A further $2mn flowed into the Wootton Cricket account in April 2013 from a UAE personality, according to the bank statement and a copy of the Swift transfer details.
“Naqvi then exchanged emails with a colleague about transferring $1.2mn more to the PTI. Six days after the $2mn arrived in the Wootton Cricket bank account, Naqvi transferred $1.2mn from it to Pakistan in two instalments. Rafique Lakhani, the senior Abraaj executive responsible for managing cash flow, wrote in an email to Naqvi that the transfers were intended for the PTI,” the FT report revealed.
It said the PTI received foreign funding ahead of the 2013 general elections when Imran Khan needed funding the most.
“It was a critical time for Khan to gather funds ahead of the election scheduled for May 2013, and Naqvi worked closely with other Pakistani businessmen to raise money for his campaign. The largest entry in Wootton Cricket’s bank account in the months before the election was the $2mn from the UAE figure.”
After Lakhani, the Abraaj executive responsible for cash flow, told Naqvi in an email that the UAE sheikh’s money had arrived, Naqvi replied that he should send “1.2 million to PTI”.
According to the FT, in another email to Lakhani after the Sheikh’s money entered the Wootton Cricket account Naqvi wrote: “do not tell anyone where funds are coming from, ie who is contributing”.
“Sure sir,” Lakhani responded.
He wrote that he would transfer $1.2mn from Wootton Cricket to the PTI’s account in Pakistan. Then after considering sending the funds to the PTI via Naqvi’s personal account, Lakhani proposed sending the money in two instalments to a personal account for businessman Tariq Shafi in Karachi and an account for an entity called the Insaf Trust in Lahore.
Although the ownership of the Insaf Trust is unclear, the emails state that the final destination was the PTI, said the FT.
“Don’t eff this up rafiq,” Naqvi wrote in another email.
On May 6 2013, Wootton Cricket transferred a total of $1.2mn to Shafi and the Insaf Trust. Lakhani wrote in an email to Naqvi that the transfers were for the PTI, the FT said in its investigative report.
In response to the question sent by the UK publication, PTI Chairman Imran Khan, in written answers stated that he had visited Arif Naqvi’s Wooton Place for “a fundraising event which was attended by many PTI supporters”.
Imran Khan confirmed that Tariq Shafi donated to the PTI.
“It is for Tariq Shafi to answer as to from where he received this money.” Khan told the FT. Shafi didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The PTI chairman told the FT that neither he nor his party was aware of Abraaj providing $1.3mn through Wootton Cricket. He also said he was “not aware” of the PTI receiving any funds that originated from the UAE personality.
“Arif Naqvi has given a statement which was filed before the Election Commission also, not denied by anyone, that the money came from donations during a cricket match and the money as collected by him was sent through his company Wootton Cricket,” Imran Khan wrote.
He told the paper he was waiting for the verdict of the election commission’s investigation. “It will not be appropriate to prejudge PTI,” the former PM said.
The FT said that Arif Naqvi had told the ECP that he had “not collected any fund from any person of non-Pakistani origin, company [public or private] or any other prohibited source” but the bank statement for Wootton Cricket contradicts his claim and show that Naqvi transferred three instalments directly to the PTI in 2013 adding up to a total of $2.12mn.
“The largest was the $1.3mn from Abraaj which company documents show was transferred to Wootton Cricket but charged to its holding company for K-Electric.
Akbar S Babar, who helped establish the PTI, told the FT that “prohibited funding took place”.
The FT wrote that Arif Naqvi Naqvi lobbied the governments of Nawaz Sharif in 2016 and Imran Khan for backing for the sale of Karachi Electric (KE).
It said: “In 2016, he authorised a $20mn payment for Pakistan politicians to gain their support, according to US public prosecutors who later charged him with fraud, theft and attempted bribery. The payment was allegedly intended for Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shehbaz, who replaced Khan as prime minister in April. The brothers have denied any knowledge of the matter. In January 2017, Naqvi hosted a dinner for Nawaz Sharif at Davos. After Khan became prime minister, Naqvi met him. While in office Khan criticised officials for delaying the sale of K-Electric but the deal has still not been completed. Abraaj collapsed in 2018 after investors including the Gates Foundation started investigating whether the company was misusing money in a fund intended to buy and build hospitals across Africa and Asia.”
In 2019, US prosecutors indicted Naqvi and five of his former colleagues. Two former Abraaj executives have since pleaded guilty. Naqvi denies the charges. Naqvi was arrested at London’s Heathrow airport in April 2019 after returning from Pakistan and faces up to 291 years in jail if found guilty of the US charges.
“Khan’s telephone number was included on a list of contacts he handed to police — a fact mentioned by lawyers representing the US government during Naqvi’s extradition trial in London,” said the FT.
Arif Naqvi sold his Wooton Place mansion in 2020 for £12.25mn. He didn’t respond to questions by the FT.
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