The Panamagate case, following ICIJ disclosures worldwide, and the scrutiny of Nawaz Sharif and his family’s finances, pushed by opposition party, PTI, have sparked an intense legal battle between the ruling family and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) Chief Imran Khan. To counter against Imran Khan’s onslaught in the Supreme Court, PML-N stalwart Hanif Abbasi filed a petition against him and PTI Secretary General Jahangir Tareen in the Supreme Court.
Interestingly, Hanif Abbasi’s petition is very similar in wording to that of ex-PTI member Akbar S. Babar who had filed an application against PTI to the ECP on November 14th, 2014.
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Akbar S. Babar’s petition, which is now being colloquially referred to in the media as the “foreign funding” case, is the basis of all of PTI’s legal headaches.
Source of PTI’s current legal woes
Mr. Babar alleges in his 2014 petition to the ECP that $3 million were raised from foreign sources and transferred into accounts of PTI’s employees through illegal “hundi” means.
Akbar Sher Babar was a founding member of PTI and a close confidant of Chairman Imran Khan during the early years. Party sources often described him as an intellectual but egoistic and mercurial person. He left the party in 2002 but later rejoined in 2011. Differences arose between him and the party leaders when the media coverage of one of PTI’s rally, for which he was responsible, was deemed unsatisfactory.
Apparently he was sacked after a heated debate with Imran Khan. But party officials familiar with the situation tell a more colorful and nuanced story. They mention, privately, that Babar had a prickly ego and when Core Committee decided to take away the media management from him and asked him to stay only as ‘Adviser to the Chairman” he lost his cool and threatened party of and its Chairman of dire consequences. The petition filed by him in the ECP was thus seen as his act of vengeance against the PTI Cheif.
Details of the correspondence between Mr. Babar, Mr. Naeem Ul Haq, and Chairman Imran Khan have since then been made public on PTI’s official website are given below.
Imran Khan’s message to Mr. Babar
Mr. Babar later alleged in his 2014 petition to the ECP that $3 million were raised from foreign sources and transferred into accounts of PTI’s employees through illegal “hundi” means. Summer of 2014 was also the season of the protests against Nawaz Sharif lead by Imran Khan – dharnas & marches – in Pakistan and many party sources speculate that Babar might have been courted and encouraged by the PMLN to take his revenge – something which Babar then denied. Irrespective of these speculations, Hanif Abbassi’s current petition, in Supreme Court, draws its support from Babar’s petition filed ECP in November 2014, coming at the tail end of PTI protests against Nawaz Sharif for election rigging.
Timeline of the case
The case was filed on Nov 14, 2014, to the ECP by Mr. Babar.
On April 1, 2015, after examining PTI’s annual audit reports, the ECP stated that the party had failed to disclose the sources and details of foreign funds received.
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“PTI is the only party which mass funds its campaigns, all other mainstream parties treat the filing of financial records as a mere formality,”
PTI then proceeded to challenge the ECP’s jurisdiction to scrutinize its accounts. Interestingly this was a legal position which it shared with PMLN lawyers. On Oct 8, 2015, a five-member bench of the ECP passed a detailed order saying that only the ECP was the appropriate constitutional forum to scrutinize accounts of political parties. However till the end of 2016, both PMLN and PTI, in their respective but different cases before ECP, kept arguing that ECP does not have the jurisdiction to scrutinize party funding.
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On Nov 26, 2015, the PTI challenged the ECP order before the Islamabad High Court (IHC), which remanded the case back to the ECP on Feb 15 this year.
ECP initiated hearing of the case on May 17, 2017.
On Wednesday 31st May, the Chief Election Commissioner of Pakistan acceded to the argument put forth by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s counsel regarding the foreign funding case. PTI’s counsel had argued that the ECP should wait for the Supreme Court’s verdict on the similar petition filed by PML-N’s Hanif Abassi claiming that PTI was a foreign-funded party.
The CEC upon confirming that the SC was expected to announce a verdict soon, scheduled the next hearing on 22nd June.
The allegations leveled against PTI accuse it of illegally procuring funds from foreign parties. However, PTI sources maintain that funding, mostly by Expat Pakistanis, from within the US is being called “foreign”. So one important distinction that ECP will have to deal with is word “Foreign”; What will be considered “foreign” because in common parlance word “foreign” means funding by foreign governments or agencies whereas this is a case of a political party raising funds in open fund raising events from its supporters across the world. In a recent tv program, Dr. Arif Alvi claimed that PTI is even registered within the US under their laws to collect party funds and within the US you cannot differentiate between the ethnic and national origins of supporters who are funding a cause, otherwise it may conflict with the US laws.
“If records that have been examined and approved start being re-audited then we would not be able to get out of the ECP as anyone wishing to impede PTI could file a petition against us on these grounds,”
But PMLN sources argued that according to the Pakistani law, political parties which wish to contend in elections must file a complete account of their financial records for audit with the ECP, and must disclose the origin of all funds. In tv programs PMLN party leaders accuse PTI of receiving Jewish and Indian money, creating the impression in common public minds that PTI has been funded by Israel and India.
But PTI sources maintain that, if ECP records are checked, then it will be discovered that most parties have only given sketchy details of their funding; only PTI has given threadbare details and it is only PTI which is under scrutiny by ECP.
“PTI is the only party which mass funds its campaigns, all other mainstream parties treat the filing of financial records as a mere formality,” PTI spokesperson Fawad Chaudhary told GVS.
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He went on to state that the financial records of PTI of 2011-2012 had previously undergone the scrutiny of the ECP when it had submitted the documents in the prelude to the 2013 general election.
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“If records that have been examined and approved start being re-audited then we would not be able to get out of the ECP as anyone wishing to impede PTI could file a petition against us on these grounds,” Fawad Chaudhary said.
It remains to be seen how a Supreme Court, also possessed with the Panama Corruption case against Sharif family, will deal with the definition of “foreign funding” in case of PTI.