ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Tuesday directed a committee to submit a status report on the progress in scrutiny of the PTI’s foreign funding within a week.
The scrutiny committee was formed in March 2018 to audit the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s foreign fund accounts.
The directives were issued by the ECP during the hearing of miscellaneous petitions linked with the foreign funding case against the PTI.
In what surprised many, the director general (law) of the ECP, who heads the scrutiny committee, while answering a query from the bench, candidly said he was unsure about how long the committee would take to complete its examination of PTI accounts.
He was unable to specify any time frame and cited other official legal engagements that impede the progress.
Upon this, the ECP directed the DG to submit a preliminary status report within one week and a detailed progress report on the scrutiny in one month.
The ECP will take up the case again after one month.
The commission insisted that the scrutiny process be taken to its logical conclusion, including information on PTI’s undeclared accounts, besides day-to-day hearing of the case.
The hearing on Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Ahsan Iqbal’s application was adjourned to June 23.
Advocate Syed Ahmad Hassan Shah, the petitioner’ s lawyer, argued that the over two-year delay in the scrutiny of PTI accounts was a consequence of lack of will and intent. He said it was surprising that on the one hand, forensic audit of 10 companies allegedly involved in the sugar scandal was completed in six weeks and, on the other, the scrutiny of PTI accounts was dragging on.
The petitioner’s lawyer argued that his client had been getting death threats only because he had challenged the “status quo” in PTI in an effort to cleanse the party and bring it back to its founding ideals.
He said that since the ECP was custodian of the foreign funding case, under the doctrine of complete justice it has all the powers to protect the life of the petitioner from harm and frivolous cases.
He urged the ECP to issue directives to safeguard the fundamental rights of Akbar S. Babar, the petitioner and prominent member of the PTI.
Mr Babar’s counsel argued that the ECP had in its Oct 10, 2019 verdict already held the PTI responsible for historic delays by abusing the law. He said that despite admission of opening accounts abroad, the PTI had not submitted a single bank statement of foreign accounts.
The counsel wondered how any scrutiny could be transparent if the petitioner was denied access to PTI documents, including the 23 bank statements of accounts mostly concealed from the ECP.
The PTI lawyer, Shah Khawar, relied on the Supreme Court judgement in the Hanif Abbasi case regarding PTI foreign funding, whereby the ECP was fully empowered to conduct scrutiny but only on credible evidence and without any mala fide intention.
He said any evidence of prohibited funding that was beyond the prescribed time frame between 2009 and 2013 should not be entertained. He claimed that the PTI had no quarrels on the issue of PTI membership of Akbar S. Babar notwithstanding the fact that the party’s chairman, Imran Khan, had filed a petition in the Supreme Court in January this year challenging the petitioner’s PTI membership. The party chief had also challenged the jurisdiction of the ECP to scrutinise PTI accounts.
Talking to reporters after the hearing, former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said the ECP would be useless if it did not summon Prime Minister Imran Khan and the previous chief election commissioner in the foreign funding case.
PML-N secretary general Ahsan Iqbal said his party did not vigorously pursue the case against the PTI when it was in power to ensure “we are not accused of political victimisation. Now we are not in government and hope that the ECP would take the case to its logical conclusion”.
On the other hand, Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan said the PTI had already submitted details of its accounts along with certificates by chartered accountants. He wondered as to when Shahbaz Sharif, Bilawal Bhutto and Asif Zardari would do the same.
Chiding the PML-N leadership, he said they would be needing “a Qatari” in this case too.
Meanwhile, the ECP briefly heard petitions seeking disqualification of federal minister Faisal Vawda and the minister’s plea for dismissing the same on the ground that the ECP had no jurisdiction. The commission adjourned the hearing to June 16.
Published in Dawn, June 3rd, 2020