ISLAMABAD: The Sup­reme Court on Wednesday warned the Pakistan Teh­reek-i-Insaf (PTI) it could appoint the Election Com­mission of Pakistan (ECP) to act as a commission to thoroughly investigate the party’s claim that it has not received foreign funding.

“What will be your response if today, for the purpose of determining whether PTI is a foreign-funded party or not, we direct the ECP to act as a commission on our behalf and report back after a detailed inquiry, similar to the joint investigation team (JIT) constituted in the Panama Papers case?” Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar asked PTI counsel Anwar Mansoor.

The question came during the hearing of a petition instituted by Pakistan Mus­lim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Hanif Abbasi, seeking the disqualification of PTI chief Imran Khan and secretary general Jahangir Tareen for not disclosing their assets, owning offshore companies and running a foreign-funded party.

Advocate Akram Sheikh, representing Mr Abbasi, had accused Mr Khan of appointing PTI-USA Limited Liability Company (LLC) as its agent — under the US Foreign Agent Registration Act (Fara) — for collecting funding not only from individuals but also corporate entities, which could be the enemies of Pakistan.

To substantiate his argument, the petitioner’s counsel had also cited a letter, written by Mr Khan to the US Department of Justice in Feb 15, 2010, confirming that the objective of appointing PTI-USA LLC was to collect funds to promote the party in Pakistan and abroad, in contravention of local laws that bar foreign funding.

The petitioner had also furnished lists downloaded from the Fara website, highlighting donations to PTI-USA LLC, which included contributions by some foreign nationals.

A similar case is also pending before the ECP, which had held on Monday that it did have jurisdiction to hear and decide the controversy, despite the PTI’s objections.

But before postponing further hearings, the Supreme Court asked the PTI counsel to satisfy the court on this issue when he resumes arguments on Thursday.

But the counsel emphasised that such a determination could only be made by the federal government under Article 13 of the Political Parties Order 2002, but hastened to add that the issue became a past and closed transaction especially when the ECP allotted election symbols to the party to contest previous elections.

The fact that the party received foreign funding should have been raised eight to ten years ago and could not be re-opened now, he maintained.

“Can a political party disown its past?” wondered Justice Umer Ata Bandial, adding that it would be a good idea if all ECP orders in the pending case were also furnished before the court for a better understanding of the matter at hand.

If the apex court gave its opinion on the issue, would it not be a binding order for the ECP as well, the chief justice observed, adding that it would be proper if the ECP was asked to decide the matter first.

At the outset of proceedings, Advocate Mansoor raised the question of the petition’s maintainability, saying that he was doing so despite his client’s instructions not to highlight the matter. At this, the chief justice reminded the counsel that he was bound to follow the instructions of his client in light of the 1980 Mohammad Ameen case.

The counsel said he had raised the maintainability issue on the grounds that the petitioner had contested an election against Imran Khan and lost, and then did not challenge Mr Khan’s nomination, nor did he file an election petition at the time.

The PTI counsel maintained that the material being produced was already available at the time, as it was part of public record. Thus, he claimed, the petition was filed for mala fide reasons, especially when no fundamental rights had been breached.

He also explained that receiving contributions or donations from abroad did not make the PTI a foreign-aided political party under the Political Parties Order 2002 and said that registration with Fara was a mandatory requirement of US law.

PTI-USA LLC only acted as an agent for PTI Pakistan to remit funds received and collected by as contributions or donations, he argued.

Advocate Mansoor also cited a 2002 notification issued by the Pakistan Embassy in the US, where it was held that a local does not cease to be a Pakistani citizen after getting US citizenship, adding that donations to the party were made by dual nationals.

He explained that PPP had also created a company in the US, which was registered with Fara and was also accepted by the ECP before allotting them election symbols.

Rebuke

Before commencing Wednesday’s hearing, the chief justice rebuked PML-N lawmaker Daniyal Aziz for claiming that his party was being treated in a discriminatory manner. Mr Aziz had made the remarks before television cameras outside the ECP during the tea break.

“What kind of discrimination is there?” asked the chief justice, apparently perturbed by the insinuation. “Which case have you commented on, Mr Daniyal Aziz?” the chief justice asked, summoning the lawmaker to the rostrum of Courtroom No. 1.

Please do not malign the courts, these institutions belong to you and these should be strengthened instead of weakening, the chief justice regretted, adding that the court would not tolerate such an attitude.

Apologising for his remarks, Mr Aziz explained that he was referring to the ECP and not the apex court.

Published in Dawn, May 11th, 2017

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