After British daily Financial Times (FT) published a report investigating how the PTI accrued funds through cricket matches organised under Wootton Cricket Ltd — a company owned by Abraaj Group founder Arif Naqvi — PML-N leader Mohammad Zubair said on Saturday that this was a moment for PTI chief Imran Khan to “come clean” by accounting for his party’s funds and challenging the FT story in a court.
Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, Zubair also called on the Supreme Court to take suo motu notice and summon Imran in the eight-year-long prohibited funding case, of which the FT story was a “small part”.
Zubair’s statements are the latest in a string of criticism of the PTI over the prohibited funding case and demands by the ruling coalition for the case’s closure.
The prohibited funding case, previously called the foreign funding case, was filed by Akbar S. Babar and has been pending since Nov 14, 2014. Babar, who was a founding member of the PTI but is no longer associated with it, had alleged serious financial irregularities in the party’s funding from Pakistan and abroad.
The ECP had reserved its verdict in the case last month.
The FT on Friday published a story by Simon Clark — the author of The Key Man, a book exposing dealings of business tycoon Arif Naqvi — revealing how funds collected through charity cricket matches were used for the rise of PTI.
The report says fees were paid to Wootton Cricket Ltd, which, despite the name, was in fact a Cayman Islands-incorporated company owned by Naqvi and the money was being used to bankroll the PTI.
This saw renewed calls for the conclusion of the prohibited funding case, as leaders from the ruling coalition heaped criticism on Imran and the PTI.
Among them was Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who tweeted: “Could it get more damning? The charade of self-proclaimed honesty & righteousness has been busted by the Financial Times story that details the flow of foreign funding into PTI bank accounts. Imran Niazi is a bunch of massive contradictions, lies & hypocrisy.”
The prime minister also dared Imran to file a defamation suit against FT “for publishing an indicting article”.
Referring to the premier’s tweets, Zubair said during today’s press conference that he was reiterating PM Shehbaz’s calls for Imran to “account for [his party’s financing] here and file a case against FT”.
“File a case and everything will be out in the open,” he added.
Further commenting on the FT story, Zubair said it simply narrated how illegal money, collected for charity, was channelled and diverted to the PTI’s account. “And it wasn’t even declared.”
Now Imran and the entire PTI leadership had an opportunity, he said.
“If you want to continue to portray yourself as the most honest, file a libel suit against FT and get an apology. And if they (FT) don’t apologise, file a case against them in a British court,” he reiterated.
He also berated the PTI leadership over its party defence following the publishing of the story.
“They are saying the entire nation is aware that Imran Khan had been raising funds,” Zubair said. “But there are defined mechanisms for fundraising. There are stringent measures across the world for raising funds, channelling them, transferring them to accounts and then declaring them in your country.”
“You, on the other hand, are saying that you will not account [for your funds,” he criticised.
‘CJP should take suo motu notice’
Zubair also urged Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial to take suo motu notice in the prohibited funding case and summon Imran.
“Why doesn’t he summon Imran. Who is he (Imran)? If all Pakistan can account [for their finances], when can’t Imran Khan?” he questioned.
He went on to say if PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif could face court proceedings and be held accountable multiple times, why couldn’t Imran.
‘Delays due to Imran, PTI’
Earlier in the press conference, the PML-N leader regretted that the prohibited funding case had been facing delays just because Imran and the rest of the PTI leadership were not ready to “give answers”.
He added that in 2014, when former PTI member Babar had filed the case, he had presented “very clear evidence” against the party with all relevant details, including all declared and undeclared sources of funding.
“Imran Khan claims that he is the most honest, he talks from a higher pedestal while pointing fingers at others and accusing them of evading accountability,” Zubair continued. “We say if you are the most honest, explain yourself.”
But, he claimed, Imran had been involved in hampering the case’s proceedings for years. “He at times goes to the high court and other times to the Supreme Court and get a decision [in his favour], or he manoeuvres to stop proceedings at the ECP.”
“It has been eight years now,” he said, adding that a new article would surface in the media every other day, telling tales of alleged prohibited funding to the PTI.
The PML-N leader said Imran had been telling the nation for years that Pakistan could not progress because there were different laws for the rich and poor calling for holding anyone facing allegations accountable.
“Yes there are two different laws,” Zubair said, adding that the law was different for the people and “privileged Imran Khan, also is commonly called laadla” (blue-eyed boy).
He went on to lambast Imran, saying that the PTI chief had been refusing to account for finances in the prohibited funding case.
“There is a blatant financial irregularity,” he stressed, recalling that when Imran took the country’s reign as the prime minister in 2018, he committed to initiating the process of accountability from himself and his team.
“Where is accountability now?” he questioned, as he went on to list several cases of financial irregularities against Imran and other PTI leaders.
Zubair said they would continue to renew calls for concluding proceedings in the prohibited funding case as justice could not be trampled.
“We will now question Imran Khan,” he expressed his resolve, adding: “We are not putting you (PTI) behind bars. We are only asking you to account for [your finances and] write a letter to the election commission, asking them to hold hearings of your [prohibited funding] case on a daily basis.”
‘Our case separate from yours’
Responding to the PTI’s demand for taking up similar cases of other parties along with that of its own, Zubair said “things don’t work in this manner”.
“We have also submitted our replies. Why are you involving us in your matter? Your case is separate from ours,” he said, maintaining that there was no such case against the PML-N.
“We have given all details of the funding [to the ECP], which is a normal activity.”
He then requested to hold the proceedings of the case against the PTI on a daily basis and demanded that the PTI “gives answers”.
‘Law suspended for one person’
Further urging the ECP to announce the verdict in the case, he asked how would people find the system reliable if the “law remains suspended for one person”.
“I am not making any allegations,” he clarified. “I am only asking them not to hold back their decision and that punishment be meted out according to the law.”
He warned that the longer the verdict would be delayed, more questions would be raised.
In response to a question about why had the Supreme Court (SC) not been approached on the prohibited funding case, he said “we will be approaching every forum now”.
Court decisions on Article 63-A
Replying to another question about the ruling coalition expressing a lack of confidence in the SC and deciding to boycott court proceedings, he justified the stance, saying that there were reasons for the coalition’s reservations over court verdicts.
In an apparent reference to the SC’s decision to declare Hamza Shehbaz’s election as the Punjab chief minister void, Zubair said “our point was there was a constitutional crisis in which you have to decide on an interpretation of Article 63-A”.
“We asked for a full court,” he said, adding: “It is said political parties cannot sit together for interest of the country. Why can’t 15 judges sit together?”
Moreover, he said, some parts of the SC’s decision were “not acceptable”.
“They said they were unconscious and interpreted the law wrong the first time,” Zubair continued. “But both times the law was interpreted, it was the PML-N that had been in a loss.”