ECP orders daily hearing of PTI foreign funding case

Updated November 21, 2019

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REHBER Committee convener Akram Durrani, along with PML-N’s Ahsan Iqbal, PPP’s Nayyar Bukhari, ANP’s Mian Iftikhar and Owais Noorani, talking to reporters outside the Election Commission of Pakistan.—Tanveer Shahzad / White Star
REHBER Committee convener Akram Durrani, along with PML-N’s Ahsan Iqbal, PPP’s Nayyar Bukhari, ANP’s Mian Iftikhar and Owais Noorani, talking to reporters outside the Election Commission of Pakistan.—Tanveer Shahzad / White Star

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has ordered day-to-day hearing of the foreign funding case against the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI).

The order came after the opposition’s Rehbar Committee on Wednesday submitted an application, asking the ECP to decide the case before the expiry of the chief election commissioner’s term next month.

In the application submitted to ECP Secretary Babar Yaqub Fateh Mohammad, the representatives of eight opposition parties urged the commission to hear the case on a daily basis.

The application addressed to CEC retired Justice Sardar Mohammad Raza was signed by Rehbar Committee’s convener Akram Khan Durrani of the JUI-F, PPP-Parliamentarians secretary general Farhatullah Babar, PPP secretary general Nayyar Hussain Bukhari, PML-N secretary general Ahsan Iqbal, Mian Iftikhar Hussain of the Awami National Party, Mohammad Shafiq Pasroori of the Markazi Jamiat Ahle Hadith, Usman Kakar of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party and Tahir Bizenjo of the National Party.

PML-N, PPP also get notices in foreign funding cases against them

The application pointed out that the foreign funding case against the PTI had been pending with the ECP for the past five years. “We urge that in the interest of justice the case may be heard on a daily basis and decided at the earliest during the term of the Commission [CEC],” it stated.

Prior to submission of the application, the Rehbar Committee held an informal meeting at the Parliament House after which they staged a protest outside the ECP.

When contacted, the ECP secretary confirmed that an application from the opposition had been received and the commission had issued directives for day-to-day hearing of the case.

Another ECP official said the directives had been issued by the CEC and ECP member from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He said the ECP member from Punjab was not present. He said the foreign funding case against the PTI was fixed for hearing before the scrutiny committee on Nov 26.

He disclosed that notices had also been issued to the counsel for the PML-N and PPP, asking them to appear before the committee the same date [Nov 26].

Foreign funding cases against the PML-N and PPP had been filed by PTI lawmakers.

The ECP official said the notices to the PML-N and PPP lawyers had been issued around a week ago.

In a related development, PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurengzeb threw a challenge on Prime Minister Imran Khan to appear before the ECP in person in the foreign funding case if there was nothing to hide, instead of employing delaying tactics.

She also sought an explanation from him over 23 ‘illegal accounts’ and asked him to make public through a tweet as to how much taxes he, his present and ex-wives and children had paid and how much assets they owned.

She claimed that Imran Khan had paid just Rs4.7 million in taxes over the last 36 years. She said Mr Khan had paid just Rs103,763 in taxes in 2017. She wondered why he had not declared foreign bank accounts in the name of his ex-spouses and children.

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 the 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 an audit of PTI’s funding sources in one month. Its mandate was later extended for an indefinite period.

On Oct 10, the ECP had rejected four applications filed by the PTI seeking secrecy during the scrutiny of its foreign funding sources. The ECP had in its order raised a serious objection to Assistant Attorney General Saqlain Haider representing the PTI as its lead lawyer, observing that his job was to represent the state, and not a political party. The ECP had in its order termed the case being the worst historical example of abuse of the process of law.

PTI lawyers had walked out of a meeting of the scrutiny committee on Oct 23, citing the objection in the Oct 10 order as the reason. A day before the next meeting of the scrutiny committee on Nov 12, the PTI filed yet another writ petition seeking to stop the scrutiny of its foreign funding sources and annul the commission’s Oct 10 order.

On Oct 12, the PTI informed the committee that until such time as the IHC decided its writ petition, it could not participate in the proceedings of the committee and that it wanted more time to hire a new lawyer, although there was no restraining order from the Islamabad High Court.

The PTI petition challenging the scrutiny process was fixed for hearing before a single bench of Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani on Wednesday. The case had to be adjourned till Dec 16 as PTI’s counsel Shah Khawar did not turn up.

The foreign funding case is fixed for hearing before the scrutiny committee on Nov 26. The scrutiny committee during its last meeting on Nov 12 had been told that a writ petition of the party was pending before the IHC and it was unable to attend its meeting till a decision by the court and appointment of a new lead lawyer.

Meanwhile, talking to reporters outside the ECP, Akram Durrani said: “Our demand is that the case be heard on a daily basis so that there isn’t a delay in it.”

He said that once the case was concluded, neither the PTI nor the current government would remain [in power].

PPP leader Nayyar Bukhari said the case had been pending for five years because the PTI lawyers were constantly submitting new petitions pertaining to the case.

PML-N’s Ahsan Iqbal said: “This is the biggest corruption scandal in Pakistani politics.” He said it was a duty of the CEC to resolve the case during his tenure, adding that the PML-N had always said that all cases against its leadership should be heard in open trials.

Published in Dawn, November 21st, 2019