ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Monday rejected the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) plea challenging the commission’s jurisdiction in the foreign funding case against the party.
Announcing the verdict through a short order, which was reserved by a full ECP bench on April 25, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) retired Justice Sardar Mohammad Raza declared they had decided to continue hearing the case, which did indeed fall within their jurisdiction.
The CEC fixed May 17 as the date for regular hearings of the case and asked the PTI to produce all financial records, sought by the petitioner, as per its earlier orders of April 1, 2015 and Dec 1, 2016.
The ECP also directed the party to submit bank statements of employees whose accounts were credited with money allegedly received from illegal sources.
The bench also issued a final warning to PTI chairman Imran Khan and asked him to submit on May 17 a reply to the contempt notice, which was issued to him for passing derogatory remarks against the commission, where he had called the ECP “biased”.
Sets May 17 as date for commencement of regular hearings
The contempt notice was first issued to Mr Khan on Jan 24 on a petition filed by PTI founding member Akbar S. Babar, who is also the main petitioner in the foreign funding case.
The ECP had reserved judgement on the maintainability of the foreign funding case on April 25 after PTI lawyer Anwar Mansur Khan concluded his rebuttal of arguments made in support of ECP’s jurisdiction by the petitioner’s lawyer, Syed Ahmed Hasan.
The case was filed on Nov 14, 2014 by Mr Babar, after he developed differences with the PTI chief over internal corruption and abuse of laws governing political funding.
The petitioner alleged that nearly $3 million in illegal foreign funds were collected through two offshore companies, registered under Imran Khan’s signature, and that money was sent through illegal ‘hundi’ channels from the Middle East to accounts of PTI employees. He also alleged that the foreign accounts used to collect funds were concealed from the annual audit reports submitted to the ECP.
On April 1, 2015, after scrutinising PTI’s annual audit reports, the ECP ordered that the party had failed to disclose the sources and details of foreign funds received.
But instead of submitting the accounts, the PTI challenged the ECP’s jurisdiction to scrutinise its accounts. On Oct 8, 2015 a five-member bench of the ECP passed a detailed order saying that only the ECP was the right constitutional forum to scrutinise accounts of political parties, without any time bar.
On Nov 26, 2015, the PTI challenged the ECP order before the Islamabad High Court (IHC), which finally remanded the case back to the ECP on Feb 15 this year.
Talking to the media, leader of the newly-formed PTI Founders Group Akbar S. Babar welcomed the ECP verdict, terming it a “landmark decision”.
He said the verdict would go a long way in regulating political parties under the law and transform them from personal fiefdoms to political institutions that could regularly offer fresh and credible leadership. Mr Babar said that to save PTI from irreversible damage, it should open its accounts to the ECP instead of hiding behind stay orders and other technicalities.
Instead of lecturing society on morality, Imran Khan should first apply the same moral standards to himself and his party, Mr Babar said.
Speaking to reporters, former PTI information secretary Naeemul Haq said that Mr Babar was not a founding member of the party and claimed that he had been expelled following an inquiry.
He announced that the PTI would participate in regular hearings of the case from May 17, in line with the ECP’s decision.
However, PTI spokesperson and lawyer Fawad Chaudhry told Dawn that the party chairman had convened a meeting of his legal advisers on Tuesday, where they would decide a future course of action over the cases being heard at the ECP and the Supreme Court.
He said the party leadership had already decided that they would not hide behind any “technicalities” and would provide every detail sought by the courts.
Meanwhile, ECP adjourned until May 17 the hearing of a case against Imran Khan and PML-N MNA Hamza Shahbaz for allegedly violating the code of conduct during by-elections recently held in various constituencies.
Published in Dawn, May 09th, 2017