NationalVolume 12 Issue # 21

Counterblasts to the Panama case

Pakistan Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar has observed that a disqualification case against Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan is a counterblast to the Panama case against the ruling family. The case shows how a government can use state resources and institutions to lodge bogus cases to silence its critics and divert the public attention from its wrongdoing in Pakistan.

There is no comparison between the Panama case against the ruling family and the case against the PTI chairman. In the Panama case, which was revealed by an international consortium of investigative journalists, the Sharif family was accused of amassing ill-gotten wealth, tax evasion and money laundering. In other words, they earned money in Pakistan but transferred it abroad illegally. On the other hand, Imran earned money by playing cricket abroad and brought it to Pakistan. It is strange he still had to provide the proof of a money trail and was warned of consequences by the court, if he failed. However, he hopes to be exonerated in the case after his former wife Jemima Goldsmith said she had succeeded in tracking down documents to establish the money trail for the purchase of the Bani Gala estate. “Finally tracked down 15-year-old bank statements to prove Imran Khan money trail/ innocence in court. Now please go after the real crooks,” she tweeted. PTI’s official Twitter account also posted that the money trail had been established and the case “demolished,” although the court has not yet decided the issue.

It is a fact the court decided to hear the Panama case against the Sharif family because of a long struggle by Imran Khan. He continued his protest and the court had to hear the case at last, when all institutions concerned failed to move. In return, a similar case of money laundering was filed against him to malign him. Everybody knows Imran Khan had not caused any loss to Pakistan when he brought money to Pakistan. But he still had to face a long and hard trial, because the government was behind it. In contrast, the Sharif family has allegedly caused a loss of trillions of rupees to Pakistan, according to the Panama Papers, but it took Imran Khan almost six months to force the court to take up the issue through his countrywide protests. All other institutions also remained silent.

The same was the case when Imran Khan moved the Supreme Court of Pakistan against encroachments near his Bani Gala residence a few months ago. Instead of removing the encroachments, the Capital Development Authority (CDA), a government institution headed by a close aide to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, came up with a startling finding that Imran had built the house illegally and it would be razed. The Capital Development Authority (CDA) declared his residence “illegal”, which “requires to be demolished” in a report to the court. “The PTI chief’s residence is among 122 illegally-constructed buildings in the area, which have been raised in violation of the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) Zoning Regulations, 1992,” it said. It added it had recently conducted a survey to identify illegal commercial buildings constructed in Bani Gala, according to which, 122 illegal and unauthorised buildings existed. “They are either under construction or have been completed. As per the ICT Zoning Regulations, the constructions are unauthorised and required to be demolished,” the report added, which was submitted on behalf of the CDA and the ICT Administration.

Imran Khan had purchased the land and built his residence in 2002. After 15 years, the government department has suddenly realized that it was built illegally after he filed a plea against encroachments in the area in the court. The CDA surveyed the area only after he filed the plea in the court. The residence was built even before the promulgation of the present bylaws and the approval for the construction was granted by the union council concerned. Its building plan was also approved by union council 23. The government has so far ignored his Lahore Zaman Park residence, which was built by his forefathers. It needs little effort to prove it was also built illegally and in violation of many rules and regulations. Many Patwaris will happily do it.

As the Bani Gala case appears to be subsiding, a foreign funding case against his party still looks threatening. A petition, filed against the party in the Election Commission of Pakistan, accused him of receiving foreign funding and embezzling it. Pakistanis living abroad are biggest donors of his cancer hospital and the party. It is cruel to call Pakistanis living abroad foreigners. As regards embezzlement charges, the government should use its graft-busting institutions to find the truth and bring its proof before the people of Pakistan. His party is popular among Pakistanis living abroad but the government is trying to create an impression that he is receiving money from Jews and Hindus. It is an injustice to Pakistanis living abroad. The “foreign funding case” was filed in November 2014, by Akbar S. Babar, a founding member of the PTI and its former vice president, who allegedly had joined the PTI at the behest of the PML-N.

If action is taken against him or his party on the basis of “foreign funding,” almost all parties, including the ruling party will also not go unpunished. The PTI counsel recently submitted documents before the Supreme Court which said the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Pakistan Peoples Party, Muttahida Qaumi Movement, All Pakistan Muslim League and even the Pakistan government owned companies in foreign countries to collect donations. “The PTI is not the only one but other political parties also have companies abroad,” said PTI lawyer Anwar Mansoor before a three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar. He submitted a set of documents showing the initiation of a company called the PMLN UK with Zubair Gul having the right to exercise control over the company. “The company’s statement of objectives says that its purpose is to promote democracy, peace, prosperity, social justice, rule of law, education and health, tolerance and equality in Pakistan. One of the purposes of the party is to strengthen democratic institutions in Pakistan and engage Pakistanis living abroad, particularly in the UK, to participate in Pakistani politics,” he added.

The “foreign funding” case is still a threat to Imran and his party. However, it is very difficult to prove he received funds from non-Pakistanis abroad or embezzled them. Even if some adverse action is taken, he will still remain Pakistan’s only hope in its fight against corruption. He has become so popular among his followers that he will remain unscathed even if more serious allegations are leveled against him.