Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan appears to have avoided disqualification in a case pertaining to the money trail of his offshore company, London flat and Bani Gala residence. Favourable comments by a three-member bench, headed by the chief justice of Pakistan, indicate he may not have to suffer the fate of ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
The disqualification case, filed by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Hanif Abbasi, took many turns before its hearing completed in the court. At times, it appeared the PTI chairman would also be disqualified for failing to provide the money trail of the purchase of his Bani Gala residence. He was assisted by his former wife Jemima Khan at every step. If he escapes unhurt, it would be because of her, as she provided the required bank record to the court. Her assistance speaks of high moral values in the West. She helped her former husband when he was in dire need. Imran Khan could not expect such a favour from his former second wife, who is of Pakistani origin.
Imran Khan has set high standards of integrity and fairness in politics. He had to face a tough accountability process. Initially, the case appeared toothless. It hurt when the court sought details from him how he set up his offshore company, purchased and sold his London flat and transferred the money to Pakistan. At times, it appeared he would not be able to satisfy the court. However, he answered almost all questions. He submitted documents pertaining to bank transactions in connection with his assets and accounts of offshore company Niazi Services Ltd. (NSL) after the proceedings were completed in the court.
In a written reply, supported by documents, he said he had mentioned the transfer of money from his account to ex-wife Jemima Khan in financial documents submitted before the Election Commission of Pakistan in 2003. He maintained that the accounts of the Niazi Services Ltd. clearly showed that the loan taken by him from Jemima had been repaid. Documents of the receipt of the amount by Jemima from the Anglo-Irish Bank were also provided to the court. The papers also proved that Jemima had transferred £79,000 as payment to him for the blueprint of the Bani Gala residence. According to the documents, £79,000 was repaid to Jemima as part of the £562,000 amount. There was nothing left in the account of the company which he could have shown in his assets declarations or tax returns. He said he was an MNA from 2002 to 2007, and in the period he had not received a penny from £99,000 nor was it receivable. By the 2013 general election, the company’s account was empty and nothing in it could be shown in the nomination papers, he argued.
Concluding the case, Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar observed that no element of fraud or malpractice had been found in the money trail of the purchase of the Bani Gala land. He also observed that Imran’s arguments about how he acquired the land had been consistent. “We are (only) assessing his honesty in the case,” the chief justice observed. The earlier hearing was not as good. The court ordered him to provide complete details of the accounts of the offshore company and the expenditure of around £100,000 which was still in the account of the company after payments were made to Jemima Khan, as the amount was not mentioned in his annual returns for 2003-04. The bench also observed that there was a total deficiency of roughly six per cent in the money trail.
It is a fact that there was no comparison between the Panama case against the Sharif family and the case against the PTI chairman. In the Panama case, which was revealed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the Sharif family was accused of amassing ill-gotten wealth, tax evasion and money laundering. It 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. His sympathizers thought it strange that he still had to provide the proof of money trail and was warned of serious consequences by the court, at times.
The court had 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 lodged against Imran to malign him. He 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 caused a loss of trillions of rupees to Pakistan, according to the Panama Papers, but it took Imran almost six months to force the court to take up the issue through his countrywide protests.
The same was the case when Imran Khan moved the Supreme Court of Pakistan against encroachments near his Bani Gala residence last year. Instead of removing the encroachments, the Capital Development Authority (CDA), a government institution headed by a close aide to former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, came up with a startling finding that Imran had built the house illegally and it would be razed soon.
Though Imran has answered all questions raised by the court, yet the existence of his offshore company even after the 2013 election could cause trouble for him. Even though there was no money in the account or generated any funds for him, its existence is open to interpretation. He could be disqualified for it, though it is highly unlikely. The court has itself exonerated him from money laundering and fraud. If he is disqualified, it will be because of an unintentional omission, rather than commission of any crime. It will not hurt him, because he still can lead his party after a controversial amendment by the government.