ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan on Tuesday reserved its judgement on four applications filed by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) raising objection over the audit of its accounts by the ECP’s scrutiny committee.

While heading the three-member bench, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) retired Justice Sardar Mohammad Raza said that the judgement on the PTI applications and future proceedings would be announced on Oct 10.

This was the first meeting of the ECP to review the PTI’s foreign funding case in 18 months.

PTI’s founding member Akbar S. Babar had filed the case in 2014, alleging that nearly $3 million in illegal foreign funds were collected through two offshore companies, and that money was sent through illegal ‘hundi’ channels from the Middle East to accounts of ‘PTI employees’. He had also alleged that the foreign accounts used to collect funds were concealed from the annual audit reports submitted to the ECP.

A scrutiny committee was formed in March last year to complete audit of PTI foreign funding in one month. Subsequently, its mandate was extended for an indefinite period.

During the hearing on Tuesday, an interesting conversation took place between the CEC and the PTI lawyer over the disclosure of the party operating numerous undeclared accounts. The party’s counsel pleaded that some PTI accounts may not be in the knowledge of the PTI Central Office. He said the PTI cannot be held responsible for the account in AJK as it falls in another legal jurisdiction.

“Is the AJK PTI not under the PTI registered in Pakistan? And, do they raise funds separately?” the CEC asked.

The petitioner’s lawyer said that the acknowledgement by the PTI of certain accounts existing without the knowledge of its Central Office validates the accusations made in the petition.

In one application, the PTI has accused Akbar S. Babar of leaking information to the media on the scrutiny process. It has also accused the media of conducting a media trial of PTI by discussing the proceedings of the case in TV talk shows.

PTI lawyer Syed Saqlain Haider read the proceedings of a TV talk show, but the CEC said how the media could be barred from discussing ECP cases. They even discuss cases before the Supreme Court of Pakistan. When ECP member Justice Irshad Qaiser asked the PTI lawyer to give evidence that the petitioner had leaked information to the media he had no answer.

Petitioner’s lawyer Syed Ahmad Hassan Shah read out earlier judgements of the ECP and the Islamabad High Court where similar applications seeking secrecy in scrutiny of PTI accounts were rejected.

In particular, he read out a portion of the ECP judgement that had accused the PTI of abuse of law by employing delaying tactics. He said the PTI’s applications are frivolous and another attempt to delay findings of the scrutiny committee. He said the PTI has delayed scrutiny of its accounts for almost five years using one pretext or another.

In another application the PTI had accused the scrutiny committee of holding meetings in their absence. However, the petitioner’s lawyer Syed Ahmad Hassan Shah read out order sheets of the committee that documented the presence of PTI representatives in each meeting where any proceedings took place.

In another application, the PTI had once again questioned the right of Akbar S. Babar to be present in the scrutiny process as it alleged he was no longer a member of the party. The petitioner’s lawyer termed the allegation contemptuous of the ECP as well as the IHC. He said the two forums had unequivocally declared Akbar S. Babar as a member of PTI. He said he was contemplating to initiate contempt proceedings against PTI in this regard. He said although the law gives each member of any political party access to party’s funding details, the petitioner only demanded scrutiny even without sharing the PTI bank statements requisitioned by the State Bank of Pakistan on ECP instructions.

The PTI lawyer answered in the affirmative when asked by Justice Irshad Qaiser if PTI had submitted all the documents before the scrutiny committee.

The petitioner’s lawyer concluded his arguments by demanding that the findings of the scrutiny committee should see light of day. He said the petition filed in November 2014 seeks findings on sources of PTI funds in all its bank accounts operated in and outside Pakistan revealed or concealed before the ECP.

Published in Dawn, October 2nd, 2019