ISLAMABAD: A senior counsel representing a leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz accused Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan on Wednesday of entering what he called the dangerous area of compromising patriotism and loyalty to Pakistan by accepting foreign funds for his party.

Muhammad Akram Sheikh, who was representing PML-N leader Hanif Abbasi, argued before a Supreme Court bench that PTI was a foreign-funded party and its chairman had applied to the Foreign Agents Regulatory Authority (FARA) of the United States for registration of agents for the PTI Texas Liability Limited Company. After the registration of agents, money started pouring into the party’s accounts, he alleged.

A three-judge bench of the court, headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, was hearing Mr Abbasi’s petition which has sought Mr Khan’s disqualification as well as that of his party’s secretary general, Jehangir Khan Tareen, over “non-disclosure of assets, owning offshore companies and running a foreign-funded party”.

Both Mr Khan and Mr Tareen, who regularly attended hearings of the Panama Papers case against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, did not turn up for the hearing on Wednesday in courtroom number one of the court.

People not linked to case barred from making statements about it outside court

The Political Parties Order, 2002 prohibited parties from receiving foreign funds, Mr Sheikh argued and added that the PTI had received $2.3 million in foreign funding between 2010 and 2013.

Recalling that FARA was the agency which had indicted well-known Kashmiri leader Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai for receiving foreign funds, the counsel submitted to the court papers containing names of members of the boards of companies which he had downloaded from the agency’s website.

Mr Sheikh told the court that from 2013 to 2015, the PTI collected $1m in political donations from the Abraj Capital of the United Arab Emirates. Likewise, Tariq Shafi, the CEO of the Crescent Company, received Rs56m in July 2013 which was then transferred to the PTI. Mr Shafi received Rs58.8m on March 26, 2013 from the Harbour Services Ltd which was also transferred to the PTI.

This was done despite the fact that the party had submitted a certificate to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) that it had not received any foreign funds, Mr Sheikh said.

Therefore, Mr Khan is hit by Article 62(1f) of the Constitution which deals with disqualification of a member of parliament for not being sagacious, righteous, non-profligate, honest and ameen.

In the Benazir Bhutto case of 1988 the court had held that every political party should account for the sources of its funds in accordance with the law under Article 17(3) of the Constitution.

The counsel also emphasised that the PTI chief had admitted to having a substantial offshore company called the Niazi Services Limited (NSL) which was further owned by three other offshore companies.

At this Chief Justice Nisar observed that it was an admitted fact that NSL was an offshore company and that Mr Khan was its substantial owner. But the court would look into the effects of all this later, adding that there was no bar on Pakistanis to own property abroad by creating an offshore company.

Mr Sheikh replied that Pakistani laws were extra-territorial which allowed acquiring of properties abroad but the same should be declared. The PTI chief became an income tax filer in 1982, the same year that he formed the offshore companies, but preferred not to disclose the possession of 107,000 pounds sterling for the purchase of London flats through NSL in the income tax returns from 1983 to 2015 which he claimed he purchased through the fortune he earned through cricket.

He said that NSL was incorporated in 1983 and dissolved in 2015. During this entire period Mr Khan contested three general elections but failed to declare the same in the nomination papers as well as in the income tax returns.

He also benefitted from a tax amnesty scheme launched during the government of former president Pervez Musharraf to whiten the London property by paying Rs240,000 but the same was never declared before the ECP or the income tax department.

Meanwhile, in a rather interesting development, the chief justice barred the people not linked to the case from making political statements about it outside the Supreme Court building. “We need to regulate the proceedings in accordance with the norms prevalent in the civilised world,” Chief Justice Nisar observed.

He warned that ignoring the court’s directives would attract negative consequences. “We should curtail the tendency of making political statements outside the court,” he said, adding that the country would grow stronger if the institutions were strengthened.

The court accepted the request by the petitioner to implead the ECP as a necessary party in the plea by correcting the mistake committed earlier when Islamabad’s chief commissioner was cited as a respondent in the petition.

The court however ignored a request made by the petitioner to consider the interior ministry as a respondent in the case with the direction to resurrect the request if needed.

The court also rejected the petitioner’s plea to form a larger bench for the case with the observation that it did not want to affect ordinary litigants.

Published in Dawn, May 4th, 2017