ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) adjourned on Wednesday the hearing of the foreign funding case against the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) till April 3 after reprimanding the party’s counsel for seeking yet another adjournment.

While adjourning the hearing, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) retired Justice Mohammad Raza Khan expressed anger and displeasure over the PTI’s move to seek adjournments and even termed it “abuse of the law”.

This was the third consecutive time that a junior lawyer, who had appeared on behalf of the PTI’s counsel Anwar Mansur Khan, sought adjournment, stating that Mr Khan had gone abroad in connection with some professional work and for medical treatment.

The ECP members, hearing the petition filed by an estranged leader of the PTI, Akbar Babar, told the party’s counsel that they were adjourning the case for the last time and the party would have to come up with its response in the next hearing.

The CEC said that had any other party used such delaying tactics, the PTI would have raised hue and cry at different forums. He said that since his joining the ECP, the proceedings of the case had been delayed for “years and not just months by the PTI”.

Party’s counsel told it was last adjournment

The ECP was also told that PTI chairman Imran Khan had not yet filed any response to the contempt petition also filed by Mr Babar on Jan 23, accusing Mr Khan of maligning the commission in his review application of Jan 9.

The CEC adjourned the hearing of the case until April 3 with the order that no further delay in hearing of the case would be tolerated. He asked the PTI to file a response to the contempt petition by the date of the next hearing and come prepared for arguing the case, failing which the case would proceed according to law in their absence.

Later, talking to the media outside the ECP offices, the petitioner accused Imran Khan of “hiding from justice”. He said that employing delaying tactics proved that PTI leaders had no defence against the allegations of “illegal foreign funding and corruption in the party accounts to the tune of billions of rupees”.

Mr Babar said that Mr Khan had lost the high moral ground that he preached others to practice for effectively leading the nation.

The foreign funding case has been in limbo since Oct 8, 2015 when a full bench of the ECP rejected the PTI’s stance questioning the commission’s jurisdiction to scrutinise the party’s accounts.

In November 2015, the PTI filed a petition in the Islamabad High Court to suspend the ECP scrutiny of its bank accounts.

However, after waiting for over a year, the ECP finally passed an order on Dec 1, 2016 asking the PTI to submit all documents about its finances, including bank statements of those PTI leaders in whose accounts money was allegedly received from illegal sources.

The documents sought include registration deeds of two US-based offshore companies, which were allegedly used to collect $3 million and transfer the funds to PTI accounts in Pakistan.

The strong observations made by the ECP on Wednesday once again provided an opportunity to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) to lash out at the PTI chief.

Speaking at a news conference, official spokesman for the prime minister, Musaddiq Malik, and PML-N lawmaker Daniyal Aziz said that on the one hand, Mr Khan was asking the prime minister to offer himself for accountability and, on the other, he himself was running away from the same.

Mr Aziz advised PTI legislators to join another party before the ECP’s decision in the foreign funding case, claiming that otherwise their seats could be declared vacant as under the law, a party was dissolved if found involved in such a serious crime.

He said that the foreign funding case had not been filed by the PML-N and moreover, it had been filed much earlier than the surfacing of the Panama Papers issue.

When contacted, PTI information secretary Naeemul Haq refuted the allegations that his party was using delaying tactics in the case. He said that the PTI had already submitted the details of its accounts to the ECP and was ready to respond to any query by the commission. The PTI has disowned Akbar Babar, saying that he had nothing to do with the party affairs and should not be mentioned as a founding member of the party.

Published in Dawn, March 23rd, 2017