[Dawn 27 November 2019] ISLAMABAD: The scrutiny committee of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) met on Tuesday, for the first time after the electoral body’s order for day-to-day hearing of the foreign funding case involving the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI).
A highlight of the proceedings was former acting attorney general Shah Khawar appearing before the committee as lead counsel for the PTI, putting to rest earlier reports suggesting that former law minister Babar Awan will be assigned the task.
It is for the eighth time the PTI has changed its lawyer since commencement of the process of scrutiny of its finances in March last year.
Informed sources told Dawn that the party’s new lawyer, Mr Khawar, had assured the scrutiny committee of his cooperation.
The PTI claims to have furnished all the documents required, but it submitted a fresh set of papers to the committee on Tuesday. The committee is said to have decided to review all relevant documents on Wednesday (today) before convening again on Thursday (tomorrow).
Akbar S. Babar, one of the PTI’s founding members, had filed the case in 2014, alleging that about $3 million in illegal foreign funds had been collected through two offshore companies and that money had been sent through illegal hundi channels from the Middle East to the accounts of ‘PTI employees’. He had also alleged that the foreign accounts used to collect the party funds were concealed from the annual audit reports submitted to the ECP.
The scrutiny committee was formed in March last year to conduct an audit of the PTI’s funding sources in one month, but later the deadline was extended for an indefinite period.
On Oct 10, the ECP had rejected four applications filed by the PTI seeking secrecy during the scrutiny of its foreign funding sources. The Commission had in its order raised a serious objection to Assistant Attorney General Saqlain Haider representing the PTI as its lead lawyer, observing that his job was to represent the State, not a political party.
The ECP had in its order termed the case the worst historical example of abuse of the process of law.
The PTI lawyers had walked out of a meeting of the scrutiny committee on Oct 23, citing the objection in the Oct 10 order as the reason. A day before the next meeting of the committee on Nov 12, the PTI filed yet another petition seeking to stop the scrutiny of its foreign funding sources and annul the Commission’s Oct 10 order.
On Oct 12, the PTI told the committee that until the Islamabad High Court decided its petition, it could not participate in the proceedings of the committee and that it wanted more time to hire a new lawyer, although there was no restraining order from the high court.