Pakistan’s election commission on Tuesday said Imran Khan’s political party had received funds from overseas-based individuals and companies in violation of the country’s laws.
At least 34 foreign nationals were named in a report produced by the Election Commission of Pakistan for having illegally funded the former prime minister’s party — Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf, or PTI.
Arif Naqvi, a Pakistani tycoon whose financial backing for Khan was detailed in a recent Financial Times investigation, was also cited in the ruling. Naqvi’s Dubai-based private equity firm Abraaj Group collapsed in 2019, leading to closer scrutiny of his close ties to influential Pakistanis.
The commission’s findings come as Khan’s PTI has been gaining ground against prime minister Shehbaz Sharif’s ruling coalition. They add to the country’s unstable politics and economic problems, including rising inflation.
The PTI kept 13 of its bank accounts “hidden” from authorities, according to the commission. In addition companies in Canada, the US, Australia and the United Arab Emirates contributed to the PTI in violation of Pakistani laws, according to the report. Funding of political parties by companies or foreign nationals is forbidden in Pakistan.
An FT investigation found that Naqvi used a charity cricket tournament to facilitate donations to Khan’s party from his Dubai-based private equity group Abraaj and a member of Abu Dhabi’s royal family. Khan has denied wrongdoing.
The electoral body has now summoned Khan’s party to make its case before making a decision on its future. PTI leaders on Tuesday promised to fight back and appeal against any decision against it before Pakistan’s supreme court.
Akbar S Babar, a PTI founding member who fell out with Khan and subsequently complained to the electoral commission in 2014 about the lack of transparency in the party’s records of funds from foreign sources, on Tuesday called for the former prime minister to step down as the PTI’s leader. “He has no choice but to resign as party chair,” Babar said.
Other members of Khan’s party contested the commission’s conclusions. Fawad Chaudhry, a senior PTI member and former information minister in Khan’s government, wrote in a tweet: “Seems CEC (Chief Election Commissioner) relied on Tarot cards for this decision instead of merits.”
The elections body’s report was published at a time when Pakistan is negotiating with the IMF on the release of a $1.3bn instalment of its lending facility, and seeking to shore up financing from countries including Saudi Arabia and China.
Pakistan’s economy has been buckling under rising food and fuel prices, and its foreign exchange reserves have fallen below $9bn, enough to pay for less than two months’ worth of imports. The Sharif government has been forced to raise tariffs for electricity, gas and petroleum to win back the multilateral lender’s support, eroding its backing among voters.
Esther Perez Ruiz, the fund’s resident representative in Pakistan, said in a message to the FT and other media on Tuesday that the IMF was tentatively planning a board meeting for late August “once adequate funding assurances are confirmed”.
Analysts said it was too early to conclude if the PTI funding report had done irreparable damage to Khan’s political fortunes. The PTI has regained popularity since Khan was ousted as prime minister in April in a parliamentary vote of no confidence.
Khan called for early elections after winning most of the seats in a local poll in Pakistan’s largest Punjab province last month.
Azeema Cheema, director of Verso Consulting, an Islamabad-based research group, said the probe’s findings would probably be taken by his supporters “as one more piece of evidence that Imran is being targeted by the deep state”.
“This is not the kind of thing that’s going to turn the general population against Imran Khan because voters are set in their preferences,” she said. “There’s not a lot of swing voters, and Pakistan has now become a properly polarised environment.”
Hasan Askari Rizvi, a political commentator, said that alleged corruption in politics was “a widespread problem in Pakistan.”
“For people on the streets of Pakistan, the issue of foreign funding is only about fighting among the political elite,” he said. “And the mainstream political leaders have all been accused of corruption, so why should an ordinary person dealing with difficult economic challenges care?”
Huma Baqai, a professor at the University of Karachi and regular TV commentator, said Tuesday’s report from the electoral watchdog seemed like a “soft verdict”.
However, she added that Tuesday’s outcome might further deepen existing divisions in Pakistani politics. “Another Pandora’s box will open up if the PTI now steps up its campaign to push for investigating the record of fundraising of all political parties,” she said. “I think that will bring up a much bigger controversy.”
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