ISLAMABAD: A private bank delayed sharing key data sought by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) about foreign remittances to the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) accounts, including undeclared accounts, until the 2018 general elections and then expressed its inability to do so after PTI Chairman Imran Khan took oath as the prime minister on August 18, 2018.

All PTI foreign exchange remittances in the now-defunct private bank continue to remain a secret, according to a set of documents that are part of the recently declassified record and available with Dawn.

The record had been shared directly with the ECP by scheduled banks on the direction of the State Bank of Pakistan after the ECP scrutiny committee, formed to audit accounts of the ruling PTI, requested the SBP to facilitate the commission in obtaining details of PTI accounts, particularly the ‘fund transfers from abroad from 2009 to 2013’.

According to the record, ECP (Law) Director General Mohammad Arshad, who headed the scrutiny committee to probe PTI’s foreign funding, wrote a letter to the governor of the State Bank of Pakistan on July 3, 2018 under Article 220 of the Constitution. The purpose of the letter was to facilitate the ECP in obtaining details of PTI accounts including the ‘fund transfers from abroad from 2009 to 2013’.

Over a week later, the SBP wrote letters, available with Dawn, to presidents of all scheduled banks in the country to submit the required information directly to the ECP.

While many banks shared all bank statements and other financial details including foreign exchange remittances to the PTI with the ECP, the responses of one particular bank reveal that that the ‘remittances received in foreign currency accounts’ of the PTI in a now-defunct private bank continue to remain secret.

The documents show that the bank, which was acquired in May 2015 at a token price of Rs1,000, initially sought five more days from the ECP through a letter dated July 16, 2018 to share the details and finally expressed its inability through another letter dated August 20, 2018 to share PTI foreign exchange remittances citing software incompatibility as the reason.

It is interesting to note that during this five-week gap between the first and second letter, the country witnessed general elections (held on July 25, 2018) and PTI Chairman Imran Khan took oath as prime minister of Pakistan on August 18, 2018.

The initial response to the ECP of the acquiring bank, dated July 16, 2018, reads: “with regard to remittances from abroad, it is submitted that we have initiated the process of retrieving the requisite required information, however, since the information pertains to the defunct [private bank], we would require some additional time in order to submit a comprehensive response to your good office. In the light of the above, it is requested to kindly grant 5 working days extension for submission of the information (PTI foreign remittances) to your office.”

However, instead of sharing details of PTI foreign remittances in five days, in its second letter dated August 20, 2018 — two days after the PTI government was sworn in — the bank stated: “As for the (PTI) remittances received in foreign currency accounts, the bank pursued SWIFT authorities for retrieval of archived swift messages of relevant transactions… The backup file provided by SWIFT authorities could not be opened on the current software being used by [the bank] due to difference of (software) version. Therefore, the possibility of retrieval of any meaningful information is remote.”

According to the affidavit, signed by PTI Chairman Imran Khan before the ECP for each fiscal year under review from 2008 to 2012, the party had only two accounts, one of which was with the now-defunct bank.

The scrutiny committee on page 92 of its report mentioned details of both types of bank accounts, revealed or concealed by the PTI, as following: Year 2008-09 accounts revealed 2, accounts concealed 5, Year 2009-10 accounts revealed 2, accounts concealed 7, Year 2010-11 accounts revealed 2, accounts concealed 13, Year 2011-12 accounts revealed 2, accounts concealed 14, and Year 2012-13 accounts revealed 4, accounts concealed 14.

When ECP (Law) DG Arshad was contacted to know what measures the scrutiny committee had taken to seek access to foreign exchange remittances in PTI accounts maintained in the defunct bank, he said refused to speak, saying he was otherwise indisposed. Since then, Mr Arshad has been incommunicado, refusing to answer written and telephonic requests for comment.

Dawn also tried to contact the president of the bank which had later acquired the now-defunct bank where PTI accounts were held to ask why the “Swift backup file” containing details of PTI foreign exchange remittances could not be turned into readable format despite the passage of three and a half years.

While the bank president did not respond, a representative from a media management company contacted Dawn on the bank’s behalf, committing to providing a response ‘soon’. However, no response was received until going to print.

When the petitioner in the foreign funding case, PTI founding member Akbar S. Babar was approached for a comment, he said they intended to raise the matter with the ECP for further action.

He said the people of Pakistan had the right to know the facts about PTI’s foreign funding, including details of all its international bank accounts and details of the funding received in the accounts of the four PTI central office employees, authorised by the PTI finance board in July 2011 with the knowledge of Mr Khan and Dr Arif Alvi, who was then-secretary general of the party.

Despite acknowledging authorizing the receipt of funds in private accounts of PTI employees from within and outside Pakistan, the ruling PTI continues to refuse providing its details or the details of its international foreign accounts identified by the petitioner.

The foreign funding case also appears to be in its conclusive stages after the ECP shared the scrutiny committee report with Mr Babar and the respondent on Jan 4 this year.

While rejecting the scrutiny committee’s recommendation to keep the PTI financial record secret, the ECP on Jan 18, 2022 ordered the committee to share with the petitioner the entire report including all the enclosures that had been kept secret.

The scrutiny committee had kept all the critical documents secret from July 2018 until the end of Jan 2022 despite vociferous demands of the petitioner for access to them. The records were finally shared with Mr Babar between Jan 31 and Feb 7, 2022.

Published in Dawn, March 1st, 2022

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