Malik Nasir Mahmood Aslam looks at an important development
PTI foreign funding case is rated in one of those unique cases that lingered on for eight long years before verdict on it was announced this week. The verdict when given was thankfully a unanimous verdict indicating an alignment of views on crucial political issues staying away from any other considerations but legal. The decision of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has categorically ruled that PTI did indeed receive prohibited funding and issued a notice to the party asking why the funds should not be confiscated. A three-member ECP bench headed by Chief Election Commissioner Sikander (CEC) Sultan Raja announced the verdict in a case filed by PTI founding member Akbar S. Babar which had been pending since 14 November, 2014.
The verdict, which was reserved on 21 June, was announced highlighting that PTI received funding from prohibited sources; party got funds from 34 foreign nationals and 351 foreign-based companies; PTI took ownership of eight accounts, kept 13 hidden and failed to mention three; notice issued to PTI to explain why funds should not be confiscated and Form-1 submitted by Imran Khan found to be grossly inaccurate.
Detailing the judgement, the ECP noted that the PTI knowingly and willfully received funding from Wootton Cricket Limited, operated by business tycoon Arif Naqvi and was a willing recipient of prohibited money of $2,121,500. ECP added that PTI also received donations from Bristol Engineering Services, E-Planet Trustees, SS Marketing Manchester, PTI USA LLC-6160 and PTI USA LLC-5975 which were hit by prohibition and in violation of Pakistani laws. It went on to say that the party also received donations through PTI Canada Corporation and PTI UK Public Limited Company. Further, the party received donations from Australia-based company Dunpec Limited, and Pakistani companies Anwar Brothers, Zain Cotton and Young Sports which was again in violation of the law. The commission noted that the party also failed to mention three accounts which were also being operated by the party’s senior leadership.
Non-disclosure and concealment of 16 bank accounts by the PTI is a serious lapse on part of the PTI’s leadership and in violation of Article 17(3) of the Constitution. The PTI chairman submitted Form-I for five years (between 2008-2013) which was found to be grossly inaccurate on the basis of the financial statements obtained by this commission from SBP and other material available on record. In its order, the commission also said that it was constrained to hold that Imran Khan failed to discharge his obligations as mandated under the Pakistani statutes.
Many analysts are of the view that this decision does not pose an imminent danger to the political party, though it may complicate matters for PTI and Imran Khan. The decision has provided plenty of ammunition to PTI’s political opponents and may strengthen the hands of the coalition that may well decide to make moves aimed at declaring PTI as a foreign aided party. There is a strong possibility of the party’s funds getting confiscated leaving the party in serious financial trouble. The decision has opened up a new round of litigation before the superior courts since the PTI intends to challenge the issuance of show cause notice by the commission before the high court.
The Supreme Court will have a final word on party’s fate, because any such declaration by the federal government, if taken, will be subject to endorsement by the apex court that can uphold federal government’s declaration or reject the same but after a complete satisfaction of its own through proper hearing into the matter. If the apex court upholds federal government declaration, then according to Section 15(3) of PPO-2002, the foreign-aided political party will stand dissolved forthwith. In addition, the members who contested elections on the tickets of the party will also be disqualified for the remaining term. But it is far-fetched idea as legally the ECP decision is too weak and any federal government move to declare the party foreign-funded will not be a prudent decision.
The decision has made a sword to hang over the head of Imran Khan as the alleged falsity of the certificates signed by him and submitted to the ECP about the party funds could be taken seriously by a court of law. The certificates on part of Imran Khan before the ECP that no foreign funding was received by the party could have brought problems for him if he had furnished unaudited accounts before the ECP. In this context, the superior courts will definitely go into the intention of the party head before handing down any damning penalty upon the party head. In case the funding matter lands at the Supreme Court through a challenge to ECP’s decision, the moot point before the court would be the words mentioned in law, the receipt of substantial or portion of foreign funding or the application of the Elections Act, 2017 with prospective or retrospective effect. As this is a political case therefore it may take a long time before it comes to a juncture where some firm decision about the matter is arrived at. TW