ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Thursday rejected all four applications filed by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) against audit of its accounts by the ECP’s scrutiny committee.

Announcing the judgement reserved on Oct 1, a three-member bench of the ECP, headed by Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) retired Justice Sardar Mohammad Raza, directed the scrutiny committee to continue its work and submit a report as soon as possible.

Akbar S. Babar, a founding member of the PTI, had filed the case in 2014, alleging that the party had illegally collected nearly $3 million through two offshore companies, and that money was sent through illegal channels from the Middle East to certain accounts of “PTI employees”.

He also alleged that the foreign accounts used to collect the funds were not mentioned in the annual audit reports submitted to the ECP.

Directs the scrutiny committee to complete its work at the earliest

A scrutiny committee was formed in March last year to investigate the issue of foreign funding of the party within a month. Subsequently, the committee’s mandate was extended for an indefinite period.

During the hearing on Oct 1, an interesting conversation took place between the CEC and the counsel for PTI over the disclosure that the party was operating numerous undeclared accounts.

The party’s counsel pleaded that some of the party’s accounts might not be in the knowledge of the PTI’s central office. He said the PTI could not be held responsible for the account in Azad Kashmir as it fell under 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 acknowledgement by the PTI of certain accounts existing without the knowledge of its Central Office would validate the accusations made in the petition.

In one of its applications, the PTI had accused Mr Babar of leaking information about the scrutiny process to the media. It also accused the media of conducting a media trial of the PTI by discussing the proceedings of the case in TV shows.

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

In yet another application the PTI had questioned the right of Mr Babar to be present in the scrutiny process as he was “no longer a member of the party”.

The petitioner’s lawyer had concluded his arguments by demanding that the findings of the scrutiny committee be revealed. He said the petition filed in November 2014 sought findings about the sources of funds in the PTI’s bank accounts operated both inside and outside Pakistan and revealed to or concealed before the ECP.

Published in Dawn, October 11th, 2019