[The News International 14 November 2019] ISLAMABAD: Five years ago on this day, a founding member of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Akbar S. Babar had filed a petition before the Election Commission of Pakistan and submitted evidences of alleged illegal funding, money laundering and corruption demanding the PTI leadership be held to account for gross violations of the laws governing political financing.

A lot has changed on the accountability front with oppositions leaders sent to jail through speedy justice, however, the foreign funding case against the PTI remains inconclusive with the PTI tried to stop its scrutiny by filing as many as seven petitions before the Islamabad High Court and more than a dozen times objections raised against the ECP regarding jurisdictions. Taking the ECP word as guide, “this case being the worst historical example of abuse of the process of law” and accused PTI of delaying the scrutiny process “one way or the other.”

In one petition, it was stated on behalf of party chairman Imran Khan that he was not answerable to ordinary citizens of Pakistan for scrutiny of accounts. As of to-date, the PTI has refused to comply with over 24 written ECP orders demanding production of documents including PTI bank statements of accounts maintained in Pakistan and abroad which according to State Bank of Pakistan record submitted to the ECP are 23 as against the eight accounts declared before the Commission.

This is in contrast with Prime Minister Imran Khan’s “no NRO” mantra which appears to have confined to the political opponents as the PTI has not only tried to disrupt the scrutiny process on different excuses, it demanded in-camera proceeding of the case where even the complainant should be barred from attending. The News tried to speak with the PTI secretary general for comments but he neither attended the call nor returned the message.

In the beginning, Akbar S. Babar, the complainant received threats of dire consequences. In a letter he wrote to the interior secretary on November 21, 2014, he claimed to have been threatened of attacks and quoted a PTI affiliate saying “some criminal elements can resort to any measure including grievous physical harm in case I persist with the accountability drive.” Akbar mentioned the name of the PTI affiliate who conveyed this message in the presence of three other individuals. All were named and their phone numbers also enlisted.

As for the case is concerned, the ECP took up the matter six months after it was filed and passed an order wherein it was explicitly stated that details and sources of funds were missing from the annual audit reports. There came the first challenge from the PTI which questioned ECP jurisdiction of the scrutiny of funds and it was rejected by the Commission.

The PTI then moved the IHC challenging ECP jurisdiction and locus standi of Akbar S. Babar on the grounds that the petitioner was expelled from the party thus he was no member PTI member. The claim was contested by the petitioner who proved through documents his party membership was intact.

However, it took one and half years for the IHC to decide the petition rejecting PTI’s plea and remanded it back to the ECP acknowledging its jurisdiction of holding a political party to account on the question of irregularities and illegalities in funding.

Instead of submitting itself for accountability, the PTI started questioning the maintainability of the case and ECP powers to summon the record. In one petition, the party demanded its scrutiny be held in-camera.

The setting up of scrutiny committee was delayed through litigation on frivolous grounds for three and half years. The committee was set up only in March 2018 under the leadership of DG Law of the ECP. Two auditors (DG Audit Defense Services and Controller Accounts Pakistan Air Force) were also made part of this committee.

As the scrutiny committee demanded financial documents and held two dozen meetings on this issue conveying written directives, the PTI was nevertheless reluctant to do so. Finally, the committee wrote to State Bank of Pakistan on July 3, 2018 for the production of financial record for the period of 2009-13. The SBP complied with directives and wrote letters to all scheduled banks demanding statements of bank accounts maintained by the PTI. It was revealed that the PTI had 23 bank accounts as against a total of eight declared before the ECP.

Now as the ECP is in receipt of account details, scrutiny process still faces delay. Yet another petition from the PTI seeking the suspension of scrutiny process was heard by the IHC on November 11. The petition had sought to set aside the ECP order of October 10, 2019 rejecting four PTI applications seeking secrecy of scrutiny and excluding the petitioner and PTI founding member Akbar S. Babar from the case. It had also sought to restrain the ECP scrutiny committee from conducting scrutiny of PTI accounts that commenced in March 2018.

The PTI had sought an urgent hearing of its latest writ petition as the next meeting of the scrutiny committee was scheduled for November 12, the first such meeting after PTI walked out and boycotted the October 23 meeting. While hearing the case, Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani asked the PTI lawyer for record of earlier PTI writ petitions filed before the IHC under the same foreign funding case. Upon PTI lawyer’s ignorance of the matter, the judge ordered the lawyer to complete the record of all previous writ petitions including the PTI Intra Court Appeal before the double bench of the IHC headed by Chief Justice Justice Athar Minallah before proceeding further. This intra court appeal is scheduled to be heard on November 26, 2019 on similar grounds of seeking secrecy of scrutiny and removing the petitioner Akbar S. Babar from the scrutiny process.