ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Tuesday deferred its decision to hold day-to-day hearing of foreign funding case against Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) for about a week.

As a three-member bench of the ECP, headed by Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, took up the case for hearing, counsel for the party Anwar Mansoor Khan insisted that an incomplete election commission could not decide a case.

Under the Constitution, the senior lawyer said, the ECP meant the CEC and four members and two of them had retired on the completion of their five-year term on July 26, 2021. “The Constitution gives powers to the ECP, not to the commissioner or members,” Mr Khan argued.

The two ECP members from Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were Justice (retd) Altaf Ibrahim Qureshi and Justice (retd) Irshad Qaiser, respectively.

Even if prohibited funding is proved, consequences limited to ‘confiscation of funds received illegally’, says PTI lawyer

The CEC, however, claimed that since the Islamabad High Court (IHC) had ordered the ECP to decide the case within 30 days, the commission wanted to hear the case on a daily basis in line with the IHC order.

During the course of the proceeding, the PTI lawyer expressed disappointment over the IHC observations and order. He said the observation given by the high court was ‘unfortunate’, as the order also included the points on which arguments had not been given.

Referring to the Political Parties Order, he insisted that the law allowed funding from foreign companies and argued that the case against the party pertained to ‘prohibited’ funding that could take place even inside the country.

The PTI lawyer discussed in detail legal provisions that govern funding of political parties. He also objected to the scrutiny committee report filed before the ECP after almost four years of scrutiny. On January 4, 2022, the report was shared with petitioner Akbar S. Babar, who was a founding member of the party, and the respondent PTI.

Mr Khan pleaded that the scrutiny committee had gone beyond its mandate stated in its terms of reference. He said the scrutiny committee could not exceed its limits while framing the report. However, he avoided comment on the April 14, 2021 order of the ECP that clearly stated, “The scrutiny committee will send its report with all the records to the commission and then we [ECP] have to decide the case of foreign funding.”

The scrutiny committee had already completed its mandate by submitting its report to the ECP.

Earlier, Advocate Badar Iqbal Chaudhry representing the petitioner before the ECP bench read out the April 1 direction of the IHC that the ECP complete the arguments and decide the foreign funding case within 30 days “by all means after hearing the parties in accordance with law”.

The IHC order also clearly mentioned that in case prohibited funding was proved, its implications would be on the party and its chairman. The portion of the order read before the ECP by the petitioner’s lawyer stated “if any of the party funding has been received through prohibited sources, it will affect the status of such political party including its chairman, therefore, it is necessary to dig out the truth …. which has far-reaching effect in Pakistani society and if any foreign funding has been received contrary to law and mandate of the Constitution, the petitioner [PTI] has to face the music.”

During the course of his arguments, the PTI lawyer said even in case prohibited funding was proved, at worst the consequences were limited to “confiscation of funds received against the law”. An ECP member then asked the PTI lawyer to repeat what he had stated.

During the two complete hearings, the PTI lawyer did not make arguments on the points of prohibited and foreign funding presented in the scrutiny committee report and the review of the scrutiny committee report submitted by the petitioner before the ECP.

Acting on the IHC order that the case filed some eight years ago be concluded within 30 days, the ECP had announced daily hearing of the foreign funding case.

On Tuesday, the PTI again sought more time to complete preparations and refused to participate in any hearing set for April 25, with the result that the next hearing was set for April 27, 28, and 29th for the PTI to conclude its arguments.

In a related development, the PTI announced its intention to challenge the latest IHC verdict of directing the ECP to conclude the case within 30 days through an intra court appeal before the IHC.

Qureshi wants ECP to summon other parties too

Also, PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Tuesday urged the ECP to summon other political parties in their respective cases as well. Mr Qureshi told reporters outside the ECP office they were not fretting but other parties should also be summoned to face cases of similar nature. He said the accusations of receiving funding from prohibited sources levelled against the PTI did not hold water.

Talking to the media, Mr Babar stated the real conspiracy against Pakistan was illegal funding of a political party to propel it to power. He said there was no doubt from available evidence that the PTI had been funded by foreigners, including Indian nationals, foreign companies including offshore companies. Besides the party concealed its bank accounts the ECP.

Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2022

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