ISLAMABAD: A probe into the ‘dubious’ money transferred to Pakistan by the former owner of Abraaj Group, Arif Naqvi, has revealed that a large amount in foreign funds was used for the media campaign of the former ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) during the 2013 general elections.
Documents obtained by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), seen by Dawn, revealed that $625,000 were routed through Wootton Cricket Limited, a Cayman Islands registered offshore firm owned by Mr Naqvi, who is currently facing trial in a US court for a $1 billion financial fraud.
This is in addition to the $2.12m received in the PTI’s accounts directly from Wootton, as documented in the election commission’s Aug 2 verdict in the party’s prohibited funding case.
Documents show that the money was sent from Wootton Cricket’s account to “The Insaf Trust” account opened by PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s close friend, Tariq Shafi, in his capacity as the first chairman of the trust. Mr Shafi also received $575,000 in one of his personal accounts and transferred to a declared account of the PTI.
Interestingly, the declared objectives of the trust were to promote a sense of participative democracy and rule of law, democratic values and political awareness in the society, besides undertaking activities in various forms to promote health education and social order.
A clause of the trust deed included: “The trust, its funds or property or association of the trustees with the trust shall not be used for personal gain of any particular person or a group of persons.”
Other signatories of the trust’s bank account were the late Ashiq Hussain Qureshi and Hamid Zaman, both close friends of Imran Khan, and it was opened in May 2012 at the Habib Bank Ltd, Lahore Cantt branch.
On May 8, 2013, three days before the general elections, two media management firms — namely ‘Communication Spot’ and ‘Group M’ — were paid Rs36m and Rs25m, respectively, from the trust account for the PTI’s election campaign, the documents revealed. The account was used for just one transaction and has been dormant ever since.
The funding for the media campaign through the account of a charitable organisation is said to be a serious violation of the Political Parties Order 2002, besides drawing charges of money laundering. This amount remained concealed from the Election Commission of Pakistan.
Sources in the FIA disclosed that Tariq Shafi and others who had opened the trust’s account were issued call-up notices thrice, but none of them turned up. They said the notices had also been issued to the two media management companies paid for the PTI’s election campaign.
“Group M”, in its response to the FIA’s call-up notice, confirmed that it had received an advance payment of Rs412m to run the PTI’s 2013 general elections campaign, out of which Rs375m were utilised and the balance was returned to the party via a cross cheque dated Sept 18, 2013. This amount was spent on media advertisements on different TV channels.
It further said the company had also provided similar services to other major political parties, including the PML-N.
The company, it said, was not aware of the sources of the funds they had invested in the media. “In short, the company had a professional relationship with PTI,” its response stated.
The FIA probe revealed the refund was made via a cross cheque in favour of the PTI in its undeclared account, titled “PTI — National Campaign Office”, maintained in then-KASB Bank — now Bank Islami Pakistan. A major chunk of Rs383m — out of the Rs412m — had been paid to the company out of this account in the now-defunct KASB bank. The PTI’s central office account was used to contribute just Rs3.43m.
The other company, however, sought some more time to submit its reply.
Tariq Shafi has already approached the Lahore High Court that directed the FIA to continue its inquiry, but restrained it from taking any adverse action against him. Mr Shafi in his petition claimed the money was transferred through proper banking channels.
PTI senior vice president (finance) Sardar Azhar Tariq did not respond to repeated attempts by Dawn to seek comment.
Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2022