The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Monday reserved its verdict in the Toshakhana disqualification reference filed against former prime minister Imran Khan.
The reference was filed against the PTI chairman by the coalition government, for "not sharing details" of Toshakhana gifts and proceeds from their alleged sale.
Established in 1974, the Toshakhana is a department under the administrative control of the Cabinet Division and stores precious gifts given to rulers, parliamentarians, bureaucrats, and officials by heads of other governments and states and foreign dignitaries.
According to Toshakhana rules, gifts/presents and other such materials received by persons to whom these rules apply shall be reported to the Cabinet Division.
However, the PTI, while in government, had been reluctant to disclose details of the gifts presented to Imran Khan since he assumed office in 2018, maintaining that doing so would jeopardise international ties, even as the Pakistan Information Commission (PIC) ordered it to do so.
On August 4, lawmakers from the Pakistan Democratic Movement — which is part of the ruling alliance — filed a reference for the PTI chief's disqualification from public office under articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution over his hesitance to share the details of Toshakhana gifts.
They submitted the reference to the NA speaker who subsequently forwarded it to the Chief Election Commissioner Sikander Sultan Raja for further action.
In its hearing on Aug 29, the ECP had sought a written reply from Imran by Sep 8. In his reply, the PTI chief had admitted to have sold at least four presents he had received during his tenure as the prime minister of Pakistan.
The former premier, in his reply, maintained that the sale of the gifts that he had procured from the state treasury after paying Rs21.56 million fetched about Rs58 million. One of the gifts included a graff wristwatch, a pair of cuff links, an expensive pen and a ring while the other three gifts included four Rolex watches.
However, during the hearing today, PML-N counsel Khalid Ishaq said Imran was asked about reasons for not declaring the gifts. But, in his reply, the PTI chief admitted to receiving the gifts as well as not disclosing them.
He quoted the PTI chief as saying in his response that he did not declare items of daily necessities.
"One cufflink that Imran did not declare is priced at Rs5.7 million," Ishaq said.
ECP member from Sindh, Nisar Durrani, said it was possible that a mistake might have been made in the declaration of assets.
To this, the PML-N counsel responded that in that case, the mistake should be acknowledged.
For his part, Imran's counsel Barrister Ali Zafar said that Ashraf had earlier claimed that he had "concrete proof" to pave way for the disqualification of the PTI, however, he had instead referred to asset declaration by Imran from 2017 and 2018.
The lawyer said he would prove that Imran had declared all the gifts as required under the law to be revealed.
Zafar said it was not the ECP's mandate to decide about the honesty of a leader.
At this, Justice retired Ikramullah Khan, the ECP member from KP, wondered if the election commission could take action if someone was dishonest.
Meanwhile, Babar Hassan Bharwana, the ECP member from Punjab, questioned why a reference was forwarded to the electoral body if the commission was not empowered to do anything.
At one point during the hearing, PML-N's counsel Ishaq said Imran had provided the receipts of his London flat but did not provide the same for gifts he had received.
After hearing arguments from both sides, the ECP reserved the verdict in the case.
In the last hearing, Barrister Zafar had urged the five-member ECP bench, headed by Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja, to quash the reference against the former premier, terming it a “misleading” case based on “mala fide intentions and political motives”.
The reference against Imran was filed by MNA Barrister Mohsin Nawaz Ranjha carrying signatures of lawmakers Agha Hassan Baloch, Salahudeen Ayubi, Ali Gohar Khan, Syed Rafiullah Agha and Saad Waseem Sheikh and it was subsequently forwarded to the CEC Raja through the National Assembly speaker.
The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is confident Imran Khan is going to be disqualified in the reference as they say he has not declared in his assets the amount he received from the alleged sale of state gifts.
In their disqualification reference, MNAs from the ruling alliance included documentary evidence to corroborate their claims against the ex-PM and sought his disqualification under Sections 2 and 3 of Article 63 of the Constitution, read with Article 62(1)(f).
Article 62(1)(f) says: "A person shall not be qualified to be elected or chosen as a member of Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) unless [...] he is sagacious, righteous and non-profligate, honest and ameen, there being no declaration to the contrary by a court of law."
Article 63(2) says: "If any question arises whether a member of Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) has become disqualified from being a member, the Speaker or, as the case may be, the Chairman shall, unless he decides that no such question has arisen, refer the question to the Election Commission within thirty days and should he fail to do so within the aforesaid period it shall be deemed to have been referred to the Election Commission."
While, Article 63(3) reads: "The Election Commission shall decide the question within ninety days from its receipt or deemed to have been received and if it is of the opinion that the member has become disqualified, he shall cease to be a member and his seat shall become vacant."
The Toshakhana case
Last year, the Pakistan Information Commission had accepted an application by Islamabad-based journalist Rana Abrar Khalid and directed the Cabinet Division to "provide the requested information about the gifts received by Prime Minister Imran Khan from foreign head of states, head of governments and other foreign dignitaries … description/specification of each gift, information about the gifts retained by the PM and the Rules under which gifts thus received are retained by him".
The Cabinet Division was told to share the required information within 10 working days and upload it on the official website as well.
Subsequently, the Cabinet Division had challenged the PIC order in the Islamabad High Court (IHC), claiming that it was "illegal, without lawful authority". The then-government took the stance that the disclosure of any information related to Toshakhana jeopardises international ties.
In April this year, the IHC had directed Deputy Attorney General Arshad Kayani to ensure the implementation of the PIC order to publicise details of the gifts presented to former prime minister Imran Khan by heads of states since he assumed office in August 2018.
ECP to formally hear KP by-poll code violations
Separately, the ECP decided to formally hear the alleged violations of its by-poll code of conduct by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Mahmood Khan and his cabinet members.
It directed that notices be issued to the parties concerned.
The CEC ordered the KP chief secretary and advocate general to remind the provincial government that any code violations would not be tolerated.
"The Election Commission will ensure equal opportunities to all candidates in the by-elections," he said, further warning that indiscriminate action would be taken against all parties in case of any violation.
The ECP said it would be forced to delay the by-elections if the provincial government was not ready to assist the electoral watchdog.