Wednesday May 22, 2024

Govt mulls putting PTI leaders on ECL, moving SC

Coalition government unanimously decides to request CJP Umar Ata Bandial to constitute full court to hear case

By Muhammad Anis & Mumtaz Alvi & Waqar Satti
August 03, 2022
PTI Chairman Imran Khan chairs a meeting of party leaders. Courtesy PTI social media
PTI Chairman Imran Khan chairs a meeting of party leaders. Courtesy PTI social media

ISLAMABAD: Considering placing names of leaders of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and its chairman on the Exit Control List, the coalition government on Tuesday unanimously decided to request the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) to constitute a full court to hear the case it is going to file in the wake of a unanimous decision by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) that ruled the party received prohibited funding and decided to issue a show cause notice to the party asking why the funds should not be confiscated.

Earlier in the day, a three-member ECP bench headed by Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja announced the verdict in a case filed by PTI founding member Akbar S Babar. The title of the case is ‘complaint’ filed under Article 06 of Political Parties Order 2002, which had been pending since November 14, 2014, as it was marred by a plethora of pleas by the defendant in the Commission, the Islamabad High Court and the Supreme Court and changing of nine lawyers and employing other delaying tactics.

The verdict was reserved on June 21 this year and expected to be announced at 10am but was delayed by almost half an hour. In its 68-page verdict, the ECP bench ruled that PTI received funding from prohibited sources; including 34 foreign nationals and 351 foreign-based companies. It was found that PTI took ownership of eight accounts, whereas it kept 13 accounts hidden from the Commission and the scrutiny committee and failed to mention three accounts.

Interestingly, Form-1 submitted by Imran Khan as party chairman was found to be grossly inaccurate. The PTI chairman submitted Form-I for five years (2008-2013), which was found to be “grossly inaccurate” on the basis of the financial statements obtained by the Commission from the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and other material available on record.

The Commission ruled, “Therefore, the matter falls within the ambit of Article 6(3) of Political Parties Order 2002 (PPO). Hence, the Commission directs that a notice may be issued to the respondent party in terms of Rule 6 of the PPO as to why the prohibited funds may not be confiscated. The office is also directed to initiate any other action under the law in light of this order of the Commission, including forwarding the case to the federal government.”

Article 6(3) of the PPO states, “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.” In its order, the Commission said that it was constrained to hold that Imran Khan failed to discharge his obligations as mandated under the Pakistani statutes.

The verdict says, “PTI chairman has for five successive years submitted Form-I and signed a certificate which is not consistent with the accounting information before us.” The ECP noted that the party “knowingly and willfully” received funding from Wootton Cricket Limited, operated by business tycoon Arif Naqvi and the party was a “willing recipient” of prohibited money of $2,121,500 (Rs506 million).

It may be mentioned here that an investigative report published in the Financial Times recently revealed how $2.12 million collected in the UK through a charity cricket match landed in PTI’s accounts, exposing the alleged role played by Arif Naqvi in the process.

Coming back to the verdict, it said that the party knowingly and willfully also received donations from Bristol Engineering Services (a UAE-based company), E-Planet Trustees (a Cayman Islands private registered company), SS Marketing Manchester (a UK-based private company), PTI USA LLC-6160 and PTI USA LLC-5975 which were “hit by prohibition and in violation of Pakistani laws”.

The party, it noted, also received donations through PTI Canada Corporation and PTI UK Public Limited Company and from both the companies, the amounts received into its accounts of PTI Pakistan are hit by prohibition and in violation of Pakistani laws. Donations were received from Australia-based company Dunpec Limited, and Pakistani companies Anwar Brothers, Zain Cotton and Young Sports which was again in violation of the law.

Likewise, PTI Pakistan, through fundraising campaigns by PTI USA LLC-6160 and PTI USA LLC-5975, was a recipient of donations from 34 foreign nationals and 351 foreign-based companies. Collection of donations and contributions from foreign nationals and companies are hit by prohibition and in violation of Pakistani laws. The ECP also said that the PTI had been found to be a beneficiary of donations made by Romita Shetty, a US-based business woman of Indian-origin and it was in violation of the law.

The verdict also pointed out the party had only owned eight accounts before the Commission and declared 13 accounts to be unknown. However, the SBP data reveals that all the 13 accounts disowned by the PTI were opened and operated by senior PTI management and leadership at central and provincial level.

The document mentions that total amount deposited in unknown/ not-pertained-to-PTI accounts is Rs215,787,718 while withdrawn from these is Rs197,957,814. The Commission noted that the PTI also failed to mention three accounts which were also being operated by the party’s senior leadership. Non-disclosure and concealment of 16 bank accounts by the PTI is a ‘serious lapse on part of the party’s leadership and in violation of Article 17(3) of the Constitution, it said.

Article 17(3) says, “Every political party shall account for the source of its funds in accordance with the law. Imran Khan, for the five years under review, has filed submissions that were grossly inaccurate and wrong. Even during the course of scrutiny and hearing by this Commission, the PTI continued to conceal and withhold complete and full disclosure of [the] source of its funds”.

On January 4, 2022, the ECP’s scrutiny committee, formed in March 2018 to examine the PTI’s foreign funding within a month, finally submitted its report after nearly four years, conducting as many as 95 hearings. The report, based on eight volumes of record requisitioned through the SBP, confirmed that the PTI leadership had committed gross violations of funding laws by allowing the collection of millions of dollars and billions of rupees without any source and details from foreigners, including Indian nationals and foreign companies.

The report confirmed that the PTI received funding from foreign nationals and companies, under-reported funds and concealed dozens of its bank accounts. It also mentioned a refusal by the party to divulge details of large transactions and the panel’s helplessness to get details of PTI’s foreign accounts and the funds collected abroad. It called into question the certificate, signed by PTI Chairman Imran Khan, submitted along with the details of PTI’s audited accounts to the Commission.

The committee report said the party under-reported an amount of Rs312 million over a four-year period, between FY2009-10 and FY2012-13. Year-wise details show that an amount of over Rs145 million was under-reported in FY2012-13 alone. The report also referred to the controversy over allowing four PTI employees to receive donations in their personal accounts, but said it was out of the scope of its work to probe their accounts.

The verdict says that before discussing the details of the case, it was deemed appropriate to refer to the relevant provisions of the Constitution and the law. According to Article 17 of the Constitution… where the federal government declares that any political party has been formed or is operating in a manner prejudicial to the sovereignty or integrity of Pakistan, the federal government shall, within 15 days of such declaration, refer the matter to the Supreme Court whose decision on such reference shall be final….every political party shall account for the source of its funds in accordance with law.

Article 06 of the PPO-2002 says that the contribution made by members or supporters of any party shall be duly recorded by the political parties. Any contribution made, directly or indirectly, by any foreign government, multi-national 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 says 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. Rule 06 of the Political Parties Rules 2002, says confiscation of prohibited funds: where the Election Commission decides that the contributions or donations, as the case may be, accepted by the political parties, are prohibited under clause (3) of Article 06, it shall, subject to notice to the party political party concerned and after giving an opportunity of being heard, direct the same to be confiscated in favour of the State, to be deposited in government treasury or sub-treasury...

The security in Red Zone was put on high alert ahead of the ECP’s verdict. Hundreds of police personnel were deployed in the area, and the anti-riot force was also alerted. Unrelated persons were not able to enter the Red zone. All the roads to the Election Commission were closed for general public.

PTI Chairman Imran Khan announced Monday to hold a protest before the Election Commission Secretariat on August 04 to press for the resignation of chief election commissioner.

Later, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif chaired a meeting of coalition partners that decided to move the Supreme Court of Pakistan in the light of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) verdict in the PTI prohibited foreign funding case.

Sources said all the allies were unanimous on taking strict legal action as per the ECP verdict. It was decided that the chief justice of Pakistan would be requested to constitute a full court to hear the case to be filed by the coalition government. The sources said the meeting also discussed possibility of placing PTI leaders’ names on the Exit Control List (ECL) to prevent them from leaving the country.

The coalition partners constituted a legal committee and a political committee to follow up the ECP verdict in both the aspects. The legal committee will complete all formalities to approach the SC and before doing so, it will seek approval from the federal cabinet. The legal committee headed by Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar will comprise Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, Farooq H Naek and Kamran Murtaza.

Federal Minister Khursheed Shah will chair the political committee which consists of Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq and Naveed Qamar. The two committees are likely to present their initial reports when the coalition partners meet on Wednesday (today) again. The meeting also expressed shock over the crash of an army helicopter and offered Fateha for the departed souls.