ECP asked to decide case against PTI on its own

Updated November 24, 2019

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The ECP had constituted the three-member scrutiny committee under the director general for law and comprising members of office of the Accountant General of Pakistan Revenues in March 2018. — AFP/File
The ECP had constituted the three-member scrutiny committee under the director general for law and comprising members of office of the Accountant General of Pakistan Revenues in March 2018. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: In a significant move, a party dissident and complainant in the famous foreign funding case against the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Akbar S. Babar has submitted a fresh application to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), requesting it to decide the case itself after “summoning” the record from the scrutiny committee that had been formed by it to audit the party’s funds.

The application has been submitted by Mr Babar three days after the ECP decided to hear the five-year-old foreign funding case against the PTI on a daily basis on the demand of all the opposition parties which had submitted a memorandum to the commission last week.

The ECP had constituted the three-member scrutiny committee under the director general for law and comprising members of office of the Accountant General of Pakistan Revenues in March 2018.

Mr Babar has made the request to the ECP, accusing the PTI of “delaying proceedings of the scrutiny committee, making it functionally redundant”.

In his six-page application, a copy of which is available with Dawn, Mr Babar has provided complete case history mentioning all the “delays, adjournments, applications, and writ petitions” filed by the PTI allegedly to delay scrutiny of its accounts.

Akbar S. Babar files an application detailing ‘tactics employed by the PTI to delay verdict in foreign funding case’

It states that the scrutiny committee has met on no less than 42 occasions and issued 16 orders, directing the PTI to file pertinent documents/record, “indicating its failure and noncompliance”.

It draws the attention of the ECP to its previous orders in August and September 2017, whereby it had already warned the PTI that upon failure to produce necessary documents, the ECP “will be constrained to take strong inference that the source of funds of the respondent and its details are prohibited under the law”.

The foreign funding case remains inconclusive before the ECP for the last five years even after 70 hearings of the ECP, during which on at least 30 occasions the PTI sought written or oral adjournments. The ruling party did not comply with at least 21 orders of the ECP to submit documents/record, says Mr Babar in his application.

To date, the PTI has engaged eight lawyers to represent it in various capacities before the ECP and Islamabad High Court (IHC) and filed six applications that objected to the maintainability and jurisdiction of the ECP to scrutinise the PTI accounts.

On more than 24 occasions, says Mr Babar’s application, the PTI sought written or oral adjournment on various pretexts, including unavailability of counsel or the pendency of the case before courts and/or ECP.

The PTI has filed no less than four applications on similar grounds, objecting to among others the presence of the complainant in the scrutiny proceedings and/or seeking secrecy and confidentiality of the proceedings to prevent public and media oversight.

One of the PTI’s founding members, Mr Babar had filed the case in November 2014, alleging that nearly $3 million in illegal foreign funds was 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.

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.

The foreign funding case has been 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.

On Nov 20, the ECP had ordered day-to-day hearing of the case against the PTI from Nov 26, hours after the opposition’s Rehbar Committee submitted an application, asking the ECP to decide the case before the expiry of the term of Chief Election Commissioner retired Justice Sardar Muhammad Raza in the first week of December.

An ECP official later stated that directives had been issued by the CEC and the ECP member from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for starting the hearing of the foreign funding case 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 commission’s scrutiny committee on the same day.

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

Published in Dawn, November 24th, 2019