The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Tuesday, in a unanimous verdict, ruled that the PTI did indeed receive prohibited funding and issued a notice to the party asking why the funds should not be confiscated.
A three-member ECP bench headed by Chief Election Commissioner Sikander (CEC) Sultan Raja announced the verdict in a case filed by PTI founding member Akbar S. Babar which had been pending since November 14, 2014.
The verdict, which was reserved on June 21, was expected at 10am but was delayed by almost half-an-hour.
Key points of ECP's ruling:
- Commission finds PTI received funding from prohibited sources
- Party got funds from 34 foreign nationals and 351 foreign-based companies
- PTI took ownership of eight accounts, kept 13 hidden and failed to mention three
- Notice issued to PTI to explain why funds shouldn't be confiscated
- Form-1 submitted by Imran Khan found to be “grossly inaccurate"
In the written verdict, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, the commission noted that the party "knowingly and willfully" received funding from Wootton Cricket Limited, operated by business tycoon Arif Naqvi. The party was a "willing recipient" of prohibited money of $2,121,500, it said.
The ECP said that the party "knowingly and willfully" also received donations from Bristol Engineering Services (a UAE-based company), E-Planet Trustees (a Cayman Islands private registered company), SS Marketing Manchester (a UK-based private company), PTI USA LLC-6160 and PTI USA LLC-5975 which were "hit by prohibition and in violation of Pakistani laws".
It went on to say that the party also received donations through PTI Canada Corporation and PTI UK Public Limited Company. "From both the companies, the amounts received into its accounts of PTI Pakistan are hit by prohibition and in violation of Pakistani laws."
Further, the party received donations from Australia-based company Dunpec Limited, and Pakistani companies Anwar Brothers, Zain Cotton and Young Sports which was again in violation of the law.
"PTI Pakistan, through fundraising campaigns by PTI USA LLC-6160 and PTI USA LLC-5975, was a recipient of donations from 34 foreign nationals and 351 foreign-based companies. Collection of donations and contributions from foreign nationals and companies are hit by prohibition and in violation of Pakistani laws," it said.
The electoral watchdog also said that the PTI had been found to be a beneficiary of donations made by Romita Shetty, a US-based business woman of Indian-origin which was in violation of the law.
The ECP said the party had only owned eight accounts before the commission and declared 13 accounts to be unknown. "The data obtained from the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) reveals that all the 13 accounts disowned by the PTI were opened and operated by senior PTI management and leadership at [a] central and provincial level."
The commission noted that the party also failed to mention three accounts which were also being operated by the party's senior leadership. Non-disclosure and concealment of 16 bank accounts by the PTI is a "serious lapse" on part of the PTI's leadership and in violation of Article 17(3) of the Constitution, it said.
Article 17(3) says: "Every political party shall account for the source of its funds in accordance with the law."
The PTI chairman submitted Form-I for five years (between 2008-2013) which was found to be "grossly inaccurate on the basis of the financial statements obtained by this commission from SBP and other material available on record".
"Therefore [...] the matter falls within the ambit of Article 6(3) of Political Parties Order 2002 (PPO). Hence , the commission directs that a notice may be issued to the respondent party in terms of Rule 6 of the PPO as to why the aforementioned prohibited funds may not be confiscated. The office is also directed to initiate any other action under the law in light of this order of the commission, including forwarding the case to the federal government."
Article 6(3) of the PPO states: “Any contribution made, directly or indirectly, by any foreign government, multinational or domestically incorporated public or private company, firm, trade or professional association shall be prohibited and the parties may accept contributions and donations only from individuals.”
In its order, the commission also said that it was "constrained to hold that Imran Khan failed to discharge his obligations as mandated under the Pakistani statutes."
The PTI chairman has for five successive years submitted Form-I and signed a certificate which is not consistent with the accounting information before us, it said.
"Imran Khan, for the five years under review, has filed submissions that were grossly inaccurate and wrong. Even during the course of scrutiny and hearing by this commission, the PTI continued to conceal and withhold complete and full disclosure of [the] source of its funds," it said.
The security in Islamabad's 'red zone' was put on high alert ahead of the ECP's verdict. It has been decided to deploy 1,000 police personnel in the area, and the anti-riot force will also remain in the red zone. Unrelated persons will not be able to enter the Red zone.
As time for the verdict drew closer, footage broadcast on television showed Islamabad police with riot shields standing outside the building as staffers can be seen unrolling spools of concertina wire.
PTI to challenge ECP verdict
Later in the day, PTI Secretary General Asad Umar announced that the party would challenge the ECP verdict.
While addressing a press conference in Islamabad, he said the party would file two petitions against the ECP in the Islamabad High Court. The first would be a contempt of court petition for not deciding the PPP and PML-N's funding cases at the same time despite clear instructions from the Supreme Court and high court.
The second petition would be challenging the verdict itself, Umar said, adding that there were "deficiencies of law and facts" in the ECP decision.
Umar criticised the ECP and said it was clear that it belonged to the Pakistan Democratic Movement's camp.
The PTI secretary general also rebutted the conclusions of the verdict and maintained that the party had disclosed all its accounts, their details and submissions. Umar said the ECP had given its decision while ignoring the evidence submitted by the PTI.
Regarding funding from prohibited sources, Umar questioned that when the US and UK had no issues with the PTI's fundraising then why the ECP was raising issues.
Furthermore, regarding the Form-1 being inaccurate, Umar said it was not the same as a personal affidavit submitted by politicians at the time of elections.
Fawad says party received money from overseas Pakistanis
Speaking to the media after the verdict was announced, PTI's Fawad Chaudhry said that most of the money was from overseas Pakistanis.
"I don't understand why the PML-N, the JUI and the PPP have declared overseas Pakistanis the enemy. We consider overseas Pakistanis to be the backbone of Pakistan's economy and will continue to rely on them for our funding," he said.
Commenting on the case, the PTI leader said that this was never a case of "foreign funding", adding that this had been proven by the ECP's decision. He went on to say that the accounts that were supposedly undeclared were not directly linked with the PTI chief.
The ex-minister said that the people deserved to know where political parties received their funding from. "No party, including the PTI, has the right to hide its funding from the people."
You decided the PTI's case and now we expect that you will bring to light other parties' funding so that the people know that the law is being followed, he said while addressing the ECP.
'Time for regime change in PTI'
After the verdict was announced, Babar demanded that Imran resign as the party's chairman.
"Now that the allegations [against Imran] have been proven, it is time for a regime change in the PTI. I demand that Iman resign," he said while speaking to media persons in Islamabad.
The PTI should be handed back to its ideological workers, he added. He also urged PTI workers to "use their mind", terming the ECP's verdict an "eye-opener".
"Think, God has given you the ability to think," he said, adding that following someone blindly was a sin.
Babar was also thankful for the "success" in the case close to eight years of struggle. "We were standing before a mountain. This fight was between the truth and power, between haq (truth) and batil (evil)," he said, adding that the ECP's verdict was the nation's success as he did not stand to gain anything.
The main objective behind the case was to bring about a much-needed change in Pakistan's politics, he said. Babar said he had won a battle in a big war, adding that there were more stages to come.
"I was fighting a legal battle. Now, I will fight a political battle against Imran [...] We will bring back ideological workers and call a big session," he announced.
Babar said the ECP's verdict confirmed the veracity of his allegations and would end Imran's "fascism". "It is a historic decision that will put an end to fascism," he said.
"Today's decision has buried the doctrine of necessity [...] which brought the country's economy and politics to the brink of destruction," he said. He added that he expected the electoral watchdog to also conclude the cases against the PPP and the PML-N.
Govt to implement verdict in accordance with law
Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb also said the federal government would implement the ECP's verdict in accordance with the law.
According to Radio Pakistan, she said that the verdict had "confirmed" the crimes of the PTI chief who received funding from various foreign countries.
The minister said that Imran was not "sadiq and ameen", demanding that he resign from his position as the PTI chairman. Imran "stoked anarchy in Pakistan through illegal foreign funding," the report quoted her as saying.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said the verdict "chargesheets Imran Niazi for violating the Constitution, submitting false affidavits and accepting foreign money". He added: "Proven yet again that he is a certified liar. Nation should ponder over the implications of his politics funded by foreigners."
In a press conference, senior PML-N leader Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said the law would now take its course. "The government will do whatever it has to do in view of the ECP findings," he told journalists at a press conference in Islamabad.
Referring to the PTI chief, Abbasi said the people of Pakistan must decide whether they could allow "this dishonest man to remain in politics any longer".
The former premier also questioned whether Imran could still be called "Sadiq" and "Ameen" (honest and righteous) after the ECP's verdict.
"More startling facts will be unearthed once the investigation proceeds," Abbasi warned.
The PML-N leader said the people of Pakistan must decide whether or not Imran should go to jail as he had allegedly looted Rs1,500 million from the nation.
Abbasi said the ECP had unearthed the facts, reiterating that the government would proceed under the parameters of the law.
PPP wants Imran to be disqualified
Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Memon said the ECP had fearlessly decided the case according to the Constitution despite facing pressure from Imran and the PTI.
"It has been proven that Imran Khan cheated the nation. The truth cannot be hidden. Imran Khan was given fake certificates of 'Sadiq' and 'Ameen'," he said, adding that the PTI chairman should be disqualified.
Sindh Local Government Minister Nasir Shah said Imran continued engaging in anti-American politics despite receiving funding from the US, adding that he was no longer honest and trustworthy after his Form-I was found to be false.
Karachi Administrator Murtaza Wahab tweeted that Section 212 of the Elections Act, 2017 was "important now". The section deals with the dissolution of a political party.
The prohibited funding case
The prohibited funding case — previously referred to as the foreign funding case — was filed by PTI founding member Akbar S. Babar and has been pending since November 14, 2014.
Babar, who is no longer associated with PTI, had alleged serious financial irregularities in the party’s funding from Pakistan and abroad.
The PTI has, however, denied any wrongdoing and maintains the funding is not from prohibited sources.
In March 2018, a scrutiny committee was constituted to examine the PTI's financing.
The committee submitted its report on January 4, after 95 hearings and nearly four years.
The report, based on eight volumes of record requisitioned through the State Bank of Pakistan, proved that the PTI leadership had committed gross violations of funding laws by allowing the collection of millions of dollars and billions of rupees without any source and details from foreigners, including Indian nationals and foreign companies.
The report confirmed that the PTI received funding from foreign nationals and companies, under-reported funds and concealed dozens of its bank accounts.
It also mentioned a refusal by the party to divulge details of large transactions and the panel’s helplessness to get details of PTI’s foreign accounts and the funds collected abroad.
It further called into question the certificate, signed by PTI chairperson Imran Khan, submitted along with the details of PTI’s audited accounts.
According to the report, the party under-reported an amount of Rs312 million over a four-year period, between FY2009-10 and FY2012-13. Year-wise details show that an amount of over Rs145m was under-reported in FY2012-13 alone.
The report also referred to the controversy over allowing four PTI employees to receive donations in their personal accounts, but said it was out of the scope of its work to probe their accounts.
The verdict is being announced amid renewed calls by the PTI for the CEC's removal after the ECP reserved its judgement in the case and comes days after an investigative report published in the Financial Times revealed how 2.12m dollars collected in the United Kingdom through a charity cricket match landed in PTI’s accounts, exposing the role played by business tycoon Arif Naqvi in the process.
For months, Imran has been persistent in his demand for CEC Raja’s resignation, accusing him of being biased towards the PML-N.
Editorial: Imran vs the CEC
He has alleged that CEC was “incompetent” and “dishonest”.
“We don’t trust the ECP head and he has been imposed on us. We don’t have confidence in you … you are a biased person in cahoots with a political party,” Imran said at a press conference last month.
Last week, the PTI also decided to move a reference against CEC Raja in the judicial commission. The party also got resolutions against the CEC passed from Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assemblies, where it has the majority.
At a party meeting on Monday, Imran announced a protest outside the ECP office in Islamabad on Thursday (August 4) and urged supporters to demand the CEC’s resignation.
Meanwhile, parties in the ruling coalition, particularly the PML-N and PPP, see the PTI's criticism of the CEC as an attempt to pressure the electoral watchdog into announcing a verdict in its favour.
When the PTI announced its decision last week to move a reference against the CEC, ECP officials and the PPP had termed it an ‘attempt to blackmail’ the commission.
Coalition presses ECP to pass judgment
For their party, the ruling coalition has been urging the ECP to announce a verdict in the case without any further delay.
On Saturday, a delegation of the ruling alliance, comprising members of the Pakistan Democratic Movement, PPP, and Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan, had met ECP officials and urged them to release the verdict in the case.
Speaking to the media outside the commission's office in Islamabad, PML-N leader Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had said “justice merits immediate action, according to the law and due process, whenever there’s an issue.”
The former prime minister had also said that Babar had presented “clear evidence” in the case eight years ago when it had first surfaced.
Since then, the PTI had tried to hamper the case by all means, he had alleged, and accused the party of exerting “government pressure” on the ECP during its tenure, as well as “political pressure” following its ouster.
Separately, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had also urged the ECP to announce its judgment on the long-delayed case last week.
“(The) foreign funding case is an example of how ‘Ladla’ (blue-eyed boy) is being protected. While NS (Nawaz Sharif) was convicted for not taking salary, ‘Ladla’ is untouchable. 8 years on, decision is still elusive. Imran Niazi filed 9 writ petitions in IHC & got 50 adjournments in the FF case,” the PM had tweeted.