Scrutiny body withdraws PTI’s document in foreign funding case

Published May 4, 2021
Sources revealed that the scrutiny process nearly broke down when, despite repeated requests, important PTI documents could not be shared with the petitioner’s financial analysts.
— Photo courtesy Radio Pakistan
Sources revealed that the scrutiny process nearly broke down when, despite repeated requests, important PTI documents could not be shared with the petitioner’s financial analysts. — Photo courtesy Radio Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: The foreign funding case against Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) took a new twist on Monday when a key financial document placed for perusal by experts engaged by the petitioner was removed from the table following an objection by the ruling party.

Informed sources told Dawn that the document removed shortly after being provided for perusal was an original copy of PTI’s HBL account’s statement.

Sources revealed that the scrutiny process nearly broke down when, despite repeated requests, important PTI documents could not be shared with the petitioner’s financial analysts.

The ECP staff deputed to conduct the scrutiny expressed their inability to share the documents. The DG Law, who heads the scrutiny committee, was inaccessible as he had gone for Covid-19 vaccination.

ECP upholds committee’s decision to disallow use of laptops for perusal

The petitioner’s counsel, Syed Ahmad Hassan Shah, strongly protested over the turn of events and blamed the committee for obstructing the perusal process. He demanded that all documents be made available to financial analysts for perusal.

Finally, around 2pm, two piles of documents were presented. However, to the utter shock of petitioner Akbar S. Babar and his counsel, the first pile of documents was the voters’ list of PTI intra-party electoral list. When the petitioner and his lawyer questioned the value of perusing PTI intra-party voters’ list, the documents were immediately removed.

The second pile of documents was the ruling party’s HBL bank statements. As soon as the perusal of the bank statements started, PTI representatives raised a hue and cry as to why these statements were being allowed to be perused.

The ECP staff immediately called the DG Law for instructions who ordered the removal of the HBL bank statements from the scrutiny table.

This led to strong protests by the petitioner and his counsel. They advised the ECP to take notice of the committee’s dubious ways in obstructing the perusal process.

In a related development, the ECP upheld the scrutiny committee’s decision to refuse to allow use of laptops to peruse the volumes of PTI documents by the petitioner’s financial experts.

Earlier, the scrutiny committee had refused use of laptops during scrutiny of PTI documents on the party’s objections after allowing the same initially.

The petitioner in the foreign funding case and PTI’s founding member Akbar S. Babar had protested and challenged the decision of the committee and termed it another example of impeding transparent scrutiny.

The order passed by the commission was shared with the petitioner during the scrutiny committee’s meeting on Monday.

On the second day of perusal, the two chartered accountants, Arsalan Vardag and Mohammad Sohaib, allowed by the ECP on behalf of the petitioner continued the manual perusal of PTI documents. They are neither allowed to make copies of the documents nor take photos as mobile phones are deposited before conducting scrutiny.

The next meeting of the scrutiny committee is scheduled for May 5.

Informed sources told Dawn that petitioner Akbar S. Babar and his counsel held a meeting with Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja to voice their concern over the impediments in the way of a meaningful scrutiny being created by the scrutiny panel.

They stressed the need for making all documents available for perusal at the same time instead of producing them in parts to ensure a meaningful scrutiny.

“It should be the choice of the auditors to pick any document they find relevant for perusal,” the petitioner’s counsel was quoted as saying.

The chief election commissioner, the sources said, assured the petitioner that his genuine grievances would be addressed.

Later, talking to reporters, Mr Babar criticised the ECP’s decision to not allow laptops during scrutiny and termed it illogical and devoid of any rationale. He said refusing the use of computers for financial analysis in this day and age could only be justified under the doctrine of necessity.

Mr Babar said the PTI acknowledged that front accounts of its four central office employees were used to collect donations from within Pakistan and abroad. The ruling party is also on record to refuse the committee of sharing the details of the funds collected in employees’ front accounts. And, yet the committee refuses to probe the front accounts, he added.

This is dereliction of its duty under the law and specific Supreme Court directives to implement funding laws in letter and spirit. The directives were passed after the ECP representative, who now heads the scrutiny committee, had termed political funding laws mere “cosmetic”.

Mr Babar demanded that the Supreme Court take notice of the case, saying the SC had directed the ECP to implement political funding laws in letter and spirit in both Hanif Abbasi and TLP cases. However, almost four years have passed but the Supreme Court’s directives remain unfulfilled.

Mr Babar said state institutions must deliver or else the state would remain dysfunctional and at the whims of a few individuals.

Published in Dawn, May 4th, 2021

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