The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Tuesday said the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) received 'prohibited funds' from 34 foreign nationals and 351 companies based outside the country.
The party was issued a show cause notice after the unanimous verdict — reserved in June earlier this year – by the three-member bench of the ECP headed by Chief Election Commissioner Sikander Sultan Raja.
"The Commission directs that a notice may be issued to the Respondent party [PTI] in terms of Rule-6 of PPR 2002, 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," said the 68-page judgement – a copy of which is available with The Express Tribune.
The electoral watchdog also declared that 13 'unknown' accounts have been found linked to the party and the submissions by PTI chief Imran Khan were 'inaccurate and wrong'.
Read: PTI directly benefited from foreign funding
“This Commission is constrained to hold that Mr Imran Khan failed to discharge his obligations as mandated under the Pakistani Statutes. The Chairman PTI has or successive five years (2008-2009 to 2012-2013) under review and examination has submitted Form-1 and signed a Certificate which is not consistent with [the] accounting information before us which has been gathered and complied on the basis of information obtained from Banks through [the] State Bank of Pakistan," said the judgement by the ECP.
“Mr Imran Khan for the five years under review has filed submissions which were grossly inaccurate and wrong. Even during the course of Scrutiny and Hearing by this Commission, PTI continued to conceal and withhold complete and full disclosure of [the] source of its funds."
Imran had personally issued certificates to the ECP in regards to Article 13(2) of the PPO to the effect that PTI “does not receive funds from prohibited sources”, meaning thereby that the PTI is not a foreign-aided political party.
The commission stated in its verdict said that the party "knowingly and willingly" recieved funding from Wootton Cricket Limited which was operated by the now jailed tycoon Arif Naqvi. The PTI was a "willing recipient" of $2,121,500.
Other foreign-based companies which donated to the party include the UAE-based Bristol Engineering Services, Cayman Island registered E-Planet Trustees, Australia-based Dunpec Limited and the UK-based SS Marketing Manchester.
The election commission, in its verdict, also stated the party violated Article 17(3) (3) of the Constitution as the PTI failed to declare three bank accounts operated by the party's senior leadership and the concealment of 16 bank accounts by the party was a "serious lapse".
'Battle between truth and strength'
The petitioner of the case, PTI founding member Akbar S Babar, spoke to the media after the verdict's announcement and thanked God and his late mother for "victory" in "this battle".
"We were fighting against a mountain. This was a battle of truth versus strength and we are victorious."
Babar stated that there was no personal benefit for him in this case, rather the nation benefitted as Pakistani politics needed a pivotal change so that political parties were tested under the law.
He thanked the ECP, stating that we [the people] had to trust and strengthen state institutions.
"We were tested many times over these past eight years but this very same election commission has agreed with all my arguments."
Reiterating the decision of the electoral watchdog, Babar maintained that the ECP had agreed that the PTI received funding from foreign individuals and companies and that several certificates submitted by Imran were "fake".
"Imran Khan used to threaten PTI, would insult the chief of the election commission and attack people personally", he claimed, adding that he believed this was "fascism".
He claimed that the ECP's decision was a step towards uprooting PTI's "fascism".
'Not a case of foreign funding'
PTI leader Farrukh Habib said that the party has maintained that "this was not a foreign funding case, this was a case about prohibited funding".
He further stated that those who propelled the narrative of the case being about "foreign funding" have been severely disappointed that the PTI was not banned today, it was only served a show cause notice.
"We will give a sufficient reply to the notice", he concluded.
Maleeka Bokhari, talking to the media after Habib, said media groups against the PTI and the coalition parties of PDM had "lost hope" today.
She claimed that the PTI was not the kind of party to accept foreign funding, however, the "propaganda" against it was furthered for years.
According to Bokhari, investigation committees were formed in 2018 to inquire into PTI funding but their reports were never made public because they proved nothing against the party. She maintained that the "biggest democratic party in Pakistan" was being pushed to the corner through a constitutional institution.
She asked PDM leaders to show their bank accounts, alleging that Benazir Bhutto had said that the PML-N felled her government with Osama Bin Laden's money and questioned why did the JUI-F had received funding from Libya's Saif al-Islam Gaddafi.
"All of this should have been done within the law, however, it is sad that these parties cannot match the PTI constitutionally and legally".
PTI's Fawad Chaudhry thanked those who fought the case for the last eight years.
"PTI is Pakistan's only party that conducts proper public funding drives. No other political party does this", the former information minister said.
He maintained that the case was about funding from 2008 to 2013 and that the PTI had collected approximately Rs3-4 billion, a major part of which came from overseas Pakistanis.
"I don't understand why PML-N, PPP, JUI have made overseas Pakistanis their enemy when we consider them the backbone of our economy", he said adding that the party will still rely on them for funding.
'Your politics have been buried'
Shiekh Rashid, a close ally of Imran, said after today the politics of PDM will be "buried". He expressed confidence that the case, if it is taken to the Supreme Court, will be done with in a single hearing.
He further said that the ECP should also decide on the funding cases of PML-N and PPP. "Nawaz Sharif took funds from al-Qaeda's Osama bin Laden."
When asked if there was any 'back-channel diplomacy', Rashid said he does not know of any such developments but politicians "never close their doors".
"Imran Khan is a popular voice of the people."
Security in the federal capital was placed on high alert before the much-awaited verdict. Extra contingents of police and riot police forces were deployed to avoid any untoward incident.
Before the verdict's announcement, PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry said the decision of the ECP will be in accordance with earlier court judgements, and the electoral watchdog will decide against the three main political parties of Pakistan – PTI, PML-N and PPP.
The former information added that political decisions "will be made by the people and not the ECP".
سپریم کورٹ اور ہائیکورٹ دونوں کے فیصلے ہیں کہ تینوں جماعتوں کے کیسز کا فیصلہ الیکشن کمیشن کرے لیکن الیکشن کمیشن نون لیگ اور پیپلزُپارٹی کے فنڈنگ معاملات کو دیکھنے کی زحمت نہیں کر رہا آج کوئ آسمان نہیں ٹوٹنا سیاسی فیصلے الیکشن کمشنر نہیں عوام نے کرنے ہیں اصل فیصلہ عوام کا ہو گا
— Ch Fawad Hussain (@fawadchaudhry) August 2, 2022
Govt presses ECP to give verdict
The development came as constituent parties of the coalition government led by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had been calling upon the ECP to announce the verdict in the case at the earliest.
Leaders of the ruling coalition from the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) on Friday met senior officials of the ECP, including the chief election commissioner (CEC), in an effort to convince the electoral body to announce its verdict reserved in the prohibited funding case involving the PTI.
Addressing a news conference after the meeting, PML-N leader and former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said that the joint delegation spoke with the ECP officials, urging them to “decide the case of prohibited foreign funding as soon as possible”.
“The prohibited funding case has been ongoing for eight years,” he had said. “The election law says that if a party takes money from a foreign individual, it has to be declared.”
Subsequently, the PTI announced to file a ‘judicial reference’ against CEC Sikander Sultan Raja and other members of the ECP for allegedly violating the code of conduct.
Imran announces 'peaceful protest' outside ECP
Meanwhile, PTI chief and former prime minister Imran Khan continued his tirade against the electoral body Monday and announced to hold a peaceful protest outside of the ECP on Thursday, demanding Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja’s resignation.
Addressing the members at the PTI's national council meeting in the federal capital, he demanded that the election commission refrains from conducting the next general elections under any circumstances.
The party chairperson said that he will hold elections within his party after the general elections to ensure meritocracy.
The former prime minister said that he wanted electronic voting machines (EVMs) for free and fair elections but the chief election commissioner (CEC) tried every way possible to sabotage it.
"The ruling parties disagreed with holding elections through EVMs because they wanted to rig the elections. Before the by-elections in Punjab, our party was the only one preparing to stop the polls from getting rigged," he added.
A day earlier, the PTI chief had a day earlier formally directed his legal team to initiate the process of filing the reference against the CEC and ECP members for meeting a delegation of the ruling alliance and discussing the prohibited funding case against PTI with them.
SC judgment on foreign funding
The Supreme Court has already discussed in detail the question of foreign funding in its 2017 judgment on a petition filed by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Hanif Abbasi, who had sought the disqualification of Imran Khan.
The SC bench led by the former chief justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar, while making a distinction between a ‘foreign aided’ party and ‘prohibited funding’, referred to the case on December 16, 2017, to the ECP for a probe.
The judgment noted that it is the duty of the ECP to scrutinise accounts of political parties on the touchstone of Article 6(3) of the PPO read in the light of Article 17(3) of the Constitution.
However, the apex court in its judgment had noted that it is not the case that the PTI was formed or organised at the instance of any government or political party of a foreign country or is affiliated to or associated with any government or political party of a foreign country, or receives any aid, financial or otherwise, from any government or political party of a foreign country.
Rather, the allegation is that the PTI has been receiving financial contributions and/or a portion of its funds from foreign nationals as not only the directors of the PTI USA LLC are American citizens, but contributions have been collected from individuals and the companies that are admittedly foreign nationals.