Politik-tok: The infamous watches of Toshakhana
The record of Toshakhana gifts made public by the government earlier this month, in partial compliance of a Lahore High Court order, shows that our public office holders have an unmistakable fondness for wrist watches.
From politicians to bureaucrats to military personnel, it appears almost everyone succumbed to the allure of luxury watches, among the many other shiny objects, they received as gifts from foreign dignitaries during official engagements at home and abroad.
Although the gifts our officials received include a host of of articles ranging from jewellery to antiques to luxury cars to weapons, in this piece we focus on the watches politicians from the three major parties have bagged since 2008 for two reasons:
Firstly, even a cursory reading of the record shows that watches were among the most gifted items, with a total of 1,262 watches (including pocket and table watches) appearing in the Toshakhana records since 2002.
Secondly, and more importantly, over the last many months, much before the court order mandating the entire Toshakhana record be made public, details of luxury watches retained and later sold by former premier Imran Khan were leaked to some media outlets and this story occupied the country’s airwaves, making headlines in broadcast and print media.
Imran is currently also facing corruption investigations by the National Accountability Bureau for bagging watches worth millions of rupees. The incumbent government and its many ministers, meanwhile, appeared regularly on television screens to claim that the PTI chief was a “ghari chor” (watch thief) who misused his power to profit from Toshakhana gifts.
As it turned out, official records reveal that many of those aboard the “ghari chor” bandwagon retained watches from the Toshakhana themselves, and that this practice was rampant across political parties.
Given this recent fixation with watches in the country’s political narrative, and its legal ramifications for some, we thought it would be interesting to compare the last three governments, each led by one of the three biggest political parties in the country, and their relationships with the watches of Toshakhana.
The process was tiresome to say the least, because the data released by the government was in PDF format, and there were thousands of entries on hundreds of pages. In some cases, only the recipient’s designation (say, defence minister of Pakistan) was written and so we had to do our own research to confirm who was holding that portfolio on the date given in the document.
After going over every single entry since 2008 to filter out wrist watches retained by PPP, PML-N and PTI representatives, here’s what Dawn.com found.
PPP (in govt 2008-13)
Politicians from the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) retained 60 watches having an assessed value of Rs12.2 million. They paid a little over Rs2m for these watches.
Then-prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, his family and guests, took nine watches having an assessed value of Rs2.1m, paying Rs351,526 for them.
PPP co-chair Asif Ali Zardari, who was the president of Pakistan from 2008 to 2013, retained eight watches valued at at Rs4.4m, for which he paid around Rs0.7m.
Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, who was the water and power minister before replacing Gilani as the prime minister in 2012, and his family retained five watches worth Rs1.2m for Rs230,410.
Dr Asim Hussain, who was the petroleum minister during the PPP government, also retained five watches worth Rs545,000 by paying Rs95,962 for them.
For the complete list of PPP politicians who have retained watches from Toshakhana since 2008, click here.
PML-N (in govt 2013-18 and briefly in 2008)
PML-N representatives took 54 watches worth Rs173m, paying just Rs34.5m for them.
Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who was petroleum minister in Nawaz Sharif’s cabinet and later replaced him as prime minister in 2017, and his family retained 12 watches (four Rolex and three Hublot among them) with an assessed value of Rs101m, paying Rs20m for them.
Abbasi topped the list across all three parties, both in terms of quantity and monetary value of watches retained.
PML-N supremo and former premier Nawaz Sharif and his family took 11 watches, five of which were Rolex, worth Rs17.6m against a payment of Rs3.5m.
Khawaja Asif, who held different portfolios in the previous PML-N government, went home with five watches having an assessed worth of Rs41.4m, paying Rs8.2m for them.
Former president Mamnoon Hussain and his family also retained five watches, though their worth was assessed at Rs2.7m. He paid Rs535,060 for them.
For the complete list of watches retained by PML-N politicians since 2008, click here.
PTI (in govt 2018-2022)
PTI representatives retained 20 watches worth Rs111m against total payments of Rs27m.
The party’s chairman Imran Khan, during his tenure as prime minister, went away with seven wrist watches worth Rs96.6m, landing second spot across all three parties in terms of assessed value of watches retained.
He paid Rs21 million to procure these watches, five of which were Rolex and one Graff.
Imran’s aide on overseas Pakistanis, Zulfi Bukhari, retained three watches worth Rs2m, paying Rs0.95m for them.
Shah Mehmood Qureshi, as foreign minister, held on to two watches worth Rs1.8m against a payment of Rs0.87m.
Pervez Khattak, who served as defence minister, also retained two watches assessed at Rs1.3m. He paid Rs254,000 for them.
For the complete list of watches retained by PTI politicians, click here.
Ripping off, legally
None of these transactions, however, were illegal — at least on paper.
That’s because Toshakhana rules, approved by the prime minister and his cabinet, had allowed officials to buy the gifts they received at a fraction of their assessed value.
When the PPP came to power in 2008, recipients could keep gifts valued up to Rs10,000 free of cost. For anything above that, they had to pay 15 per cent of the assessed value in excess of Rs10,000.
At the time, no one except the prime minister or president could retain a gift valued at more than Rs400,000 and there was also an upper cap, of Rs1m, on the worth of gifts retained per year. In case someone wanted to exceed the annual limit, they would have to pay 65pc of the assessed value in excess of the limit.
In 2011, then-PM Gilani changed the rules slightly, increasing retention rate from 15pc to 20pc for gifts valued above Rs10,000. He also increased the per gift limit to Rs1m and the annual limit to Rs2.5m.
PML-N’s Abbasi, during his time as the chief executive, maintained the retention rate at 20pc and allowed gifts up to Rs30,000 to be retained free of cost. He also did away with the per gift limit and the annual limit altogether.
It is after this removal of limits that we see officials and ministers, such as Khawaja Asif, buy pricey watches, valued in millions of rupees, which earlier could only have been retained by the premier or the president.
Later in 2018, Imran Khan upped the retention rate to 50pc of the assessed value.
As for the assessed value of all gifts, including the wrist watches, it is not known how the Toshakhana arrives at the final figure and of course, there is no way for us to independently verify their valuations.
As we go through the record of wrist watches presented to politicians from the three largest parties of the country, it appears that valuations began rising drastically after 2015.
For instance, during the PPP’s tenure from 2008 to 2013, the most expensive watch was presented to Zardari, valued at around Rs1.3m. As calculated above, the PPP received the most number of wrist watches among the three parties under review, yet the combined valuation of these watches (Rs12m) is drastically lower than PTI’s Rs111m and PML-N’s Rs173m.
On the other hand, the most expensive watch presented to a PML-N leader during their government from 2013-18 was valued at Rs35m, received by Khawaja Asif in 2017. A year before that, Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister at the time, received one that was valued at Rs4m.
Likewise, Imran Khan was gifted a watch valued at Rs85m in 2018.
Going by this pattern, it appears that the watches recorded under the PPP tenure may have been undervalued compared to those in succeeding governments, though there is no way for us to prove that conclusively.
The assessed value as calculated by Toshakhana officials was critical because up until two weeks ago, recipients paid a percentage of that value (explained above) to retain gifts. The lower the assessed value, the lower the retention cost.
Perhaps the only silver lining from the entire Toshakhana saga is that once records were made public, the government was compelled to finally change the rules, ending the practice of allowing officials to go away with gifts worth millions for a fraction of the price.
Although the high court had ordered the release of the entire record, the government has only published data from 2002. It is highly likely that in the days to come, Toshakhana data from the 90s and before could become part of the public domain as well.
Additional reporting and infographics by Hawwa Fazal.
Header image by Shahzeb Ahmed.
Dear visitor, the comments section is undergoing an overhaul and will return soon.