ISLAMABAD: Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja on Wednesday assured the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) that the foreign funding case against the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) would be decided on merit.
A PDM delegation, which called on the CEC, handed him a memorandum calling for an expeditious ruling in the case. The case has been pending before the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for six years.
Talking to reporters after the meeting, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s Secretary General Ahsan Iqbal and PDM Secretary General Raja Pervez Ashraf observed that a decision based on merit in the case would help restore the credibility of the ECP.
Mr Iqbal said the case was the biggest scandal in the country’s political history. He said a political party not only obtained funds from prohibited sources, including foreign citizens and lobbies, but also indulged in money laundering. The PTI also flouted the US laws, he added.
ECP’s scrutiny committee walks out of its own meeting
He said the PTI had now confessed to wrongdoing, but put the blame on its agents. He said under the contract law of Pakistan, the principal was responsible for the acts of the agents.
The PML-N leader threw down the gauntlet to Prime Minister Imran Khan over his accusation that the opposition was receiving funds from two foreign countries, asking him to either present proof to the Supreme Court and file a reference to put a ban on the parties concerned or to apologise to the nation.
Raja Pervez Ashraf said the failure to conduct fair and transparent elections was the basic reason for the problems confronting Pakistan.
He said the delay of six years in taking the case to its logical conclusion put a question mark on the entire system, noting that it was weakening democracy.
He said the ECP should decide the case at the earliest as all the evidence was available with it.
Meanwhile, the ECP’s scrutiny committee auditing PTI’s accounts on Wednesday set a new precedent when it walked out of its own meeting after questions were raised over credibility of the scrutiny process.
Sources told Dawn that in the last meeting of the scrutiny committee, petitioner Akbar S. Babar’s lawyer Syed Ahmad Hassan Shah assisted by Badar Iqbal Chaudhary had demanded that the documents downloaded from the US Department of Justice about illegal funding from two companies registered under Imran Khan’s written instructions should be authenticated as per August 27, 2020 instructions of the ECP.
The committee had in writing indicated that it would pass an order on Wednesday. However, instead of deciding the authenticity or otherwise of the US documents, the committee said the ECP would take a decision about the issue.
The petitioner’s lawyer challenged the decision as without authenticating the documents the credibility of the scrutiny process would be questionable and remained an eyewash. He pointed out that the authenticating evidence or fact finding was the primary responsibility of the committee. He said how could anyone consider an audit of accounts transparent when all 23 PTI bank accounts that were mostly concealed from the ECP and were only revealed on SBP instructions were kept secret. Besides not a single bank statement of six PTI international bank statements had either been shared with the petitioner nor was he allowed to peruse the same.
He said no auditor worth a name would accept an audit where bank statements were concealed. He reiterated that the committee had failed to conduct transparent scrutiny by any standards and continued to stretch the process without any credibility.
The petitioner argued that the ECP’s order of August 27, 2020, to authenticate each and every evidence, is not being followed by the committee. He said: “We have already expressed our serious reservations on the transparency of the scrutiny process through written statements filed on March 5, 2020 and August 13, 2020.”
He said the scrutiny process would remain an eyewash as long as the committee did not follow ECP instructions of August 27, 2020, in letter and spirit.
Upon this, the committee members walked out of the meeting.
Talking to reporters later, Akbar S. Babar said the committee had repeatedly failed to conduct the scrutiny process in a transparent manner. He said when the committee admitted in writing that it could not share or allow perusal of the PTI bank statements by the petitioner what good could come out of it.
He said the only way forward was for the ECP to remand all the documents from the committee and conduct day-to-day hearings before the media and civil society to conclude the case.
Mr Babar said he had no confidence in the scrutiny committee.
According to the information gathered from scheduled banks by the ECP, the PTI was operating around two dozen bank accounts in different cities of the country, but only eight of them have been declared before the commission. The remaining bank accounts fall in the category of fake or illegal bank accounts as these have not been declared in PTI’s annual audit reports submitted to the ECP as required under the law.
“The scrutiny is not transparent. The scrutiny committee has failed; it is not working properly,” Mr Babar said.
“Why are the facts being hidden? Why is the illegal funding of PTI being kept secret? People want to know the truth. The ruling party has received large-scale funding from illegal sources,” he claimed.
“The scrutiny committee’s task is to examine the PTI’s documents,” the petitioner said, alleging that it had admitted to “being under pressure” from the ruling party.
“How can a scrutiny committee conduct a transparent investigation under pressure,” Babar wondered.
Published in Dawn, January 21st, 2021