FOUNDING member of PTI Akbar S. Babar talking to media personnel after the hearing on Thursday.— Online
FOUNDING member of PTI Akbar S. Babar talking to media personnel after the hearing on Thursday.— Online

ISLAMABAD: The scrutiny committee of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has started the audit of accounts of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) in order to verify the data available in connection with the party’s foreign funding case.

The committee met on Thursday for the second time after the ECP trashed its report on the matter, because it was incomplete and lacked a conclusive opinion, and instructed it to submit a fresh and comprehensive report within six weeks.

The deadline given by the ECP in its August 27 order will expire in the second week of October.

The rejected scrutiny report was prepared after over 70 meetings and two-and-a-half years of deliberations even though it was initially supposed to be formulated within a month.

The petitioner in the case and PTI founding member Akbar S. Babar has consistently challenged the transparency and credibility of the scrutiny process. The ECP’s order of August 27 served to validate his concerns and the committee was asked to scrutinise PTI accounts comprehensively and conclusively.

Sources said that during Thursday’s meeting the committee began its work afresh by seeking to verify the evidence submitted by Mr Babar that includes evidence about alleged illegal funding, money laundering, concealment of bank accounts and receipt of funds in private bank accounts of PTI employees.

The petitioner’s lawyer, Syed Ahmad Hassan Shah, assisted by Badar Iqbal Chaudhry, once again attempted to conclusively verify the authenticity of the evidence, a process they have carried out over a dozen times since the filing of the case in November 2014.

The ECP sources told Dawn that the petitioner made an impassioned plea during the proceedings that the way forward should be different from that of the last two and half years. To achieve credible results a fresh approach would have to be adopted as the old one had failed.

Mr Babar said the PTI must be held accountable for every penny received in all its national and international accounts, most of which it continues to conceal.

Each aspect of the case must be unearthed, including the private bank accounts of PTI employees “used as a front to receive illegal donations”, he said.

“This can only happen if professional auditors conduct a detailed forensic audit.” Otherwise, restarting a process that has failed earlier would only lead to more failure in ascertaining the scale and scope of the mega-scam, he added.

The meeting adjourned without fixing a fresh date of hearing, which would be intimated later.

The committee is now supposed to complete the scrutiny process in the next two weeks — a task it could not accomplish in 29 months.

Talking to reporters after the hearing, Mr Babar said the fact that the PTI was maintaining over a dozen illegal bank accounts was on record.

Reports submitted by the scheduled banks to the ECP on the directives of the State Bank of Pakistan had revealed that the PTI was operating at least 18 undeclared bank accounts across the country.

Details of these undeclared bank accounts — including two in Karachi and one each in Peshawar and Quetta — had been shared at a meeting of the ECP’s scrutiny committee headed by the commission’s director general (law) in October 2018.

In July 2018, after exhausting all attempts to requisition PTI bank statements and record, the ECP wrote to the SBP to requisition the party’s bank statements. Consequently, the SBP wrote letters to the presidents of all scheduled banks, seeking PTI bank statements for the period 2009-13 to be submitted to the ECP by July 16, which was finally done.

According to the information provided by the scheduled banks, the PTI is operating 26 bank accounts in different cities of the country, but only eight of them have been declared before the commission. The remaining 18 bank accounts fall in the category of fake or illegal bank accounts as these have not been declared in the PTI’s annual audit reports, submitted to the ECP as required under the law.

The annual audit reports submitted to the ECP include a certification of authenticity and accuracy by PTI chairman Imran Khan — a legal requirement for all party heads.

Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2020