THE PTI’s foreign funding headache is back to haunt it. Journalist Simon Clark, who also authored The Key Man, a book that uncovered the allegedly illicit dealings of beleaguered business tycoon Arif Naqvi, has recently published in the Financial Times an account of how funds collected from foreign companies and individuals through charity cricket matches were eventually funnelled to the PTI under the Abraaj chief’s watchful eye.
Mr Naqvi, once a widely respected head of a multibillion-dollar Dubai-based private equity firm, is said to have organised a highly exclusive cricket T20 tournament on his private estate in Wootton, England, over 2010-12, in which he invited the world’s powerful and wealthy to take part. The participants were reportedly told that the thousands of pounds in fees they would pay to participate or any other contributions they made would be diverted to ‘philanthropic’ causes.
However, as Mr Clark’s investigation revealed, millions of dollars collected through the fundraising tournament by Wootton Cricket Ltd, a Cayman Islands company owned and operated by Mr Naqvi, were later transferred through intermediaries to the PTI.
The problem is not that a wealthy man of Pakistani origin used his money and influence to do a favour for a friend. Neither Mr Naqvi nor former prime minister Imran Khan has ever denied their friendship or that the former helped the PTI in fundraising internationally. However, the FT report establishes that some major donors to Mr Naqvi’s personal cricket league were, in fact, foreign nationals or entities who are, by law, prohibited from providing any funding to Pakistani political parties.
The revelation has renewed calls for the ECP to issue its judgement on the long-running foreign funding case against the PTI, with the government coalition — still smarting from its losses in Punjab — the loudest in demanding that the ECP provide some closure in this long overdue matter.
Meanwhile, the PTI continues to deny any wrongdoing, insisting that there was nothing underhanded or illegal about the way it raised money and that it has provided unprecedented access to the ECP to scrutinise its accounts. It also continues to insist that all other political parties should be investigated for foreign funding and that the PTI alone should not be singled out.
While a court of law alone can establish how complicit the PTI was in the decisions taken by Mr Naqvi in this case, it bears noting that none of the disclosures made over the past seven months or so about PTI’s fundraising efforts in its early years paint a reassuring picture about the party’s regard for the rules. The party may not be wrong when it says it didn’t do anything other parties don’t do, but that cannot absolve it if it did indeed break the law. It is time for this matter to be settled so that the political process can move on. Continuing uncertainty will not help anyone.
Published in Dawn, July 31st, 2022