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ISLAMABAD: In a major move, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Tuesday reserved its verdict in the high-profile prohibited funding case (formerly known as foreign funding case) related to former ruling party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) — more than seven and a half years after the case was first moved in the electoral body in November 2014.

“We are thankful to both the sides — we got the opportunity to learn a lot from this case”, remarked Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, who heads the three-member bench hearing this case, comprising of Nisar Ahmed Durrani and Shah Muhammad Jatoi, during the case hearing.

The CEC did not mention when the reserved verdict would be announced. But, in what appeared to a hint that the verdict in this all important case related to PTI may possibly be announced along with the cases related to Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the CEC observed that the ECP would ensure that the investigations related to other political parties (other than PTI) are also finalised and “no one should be accorded discriminatory treatment”.

“This is an issue of national interest — it is very important to restore the confidence of voters”, the CEC said. Earlier, financial expert Arsalan Wardag from the prosecution side gave his final arguments in the case. He rebutted the money trail provided by the PTI in the case and alleged that the former ruling party not only concealed facts in the case but also received funds from prohibited channels. Upon the conclusion of arguments by the prosecution side led by Advocate Ahmad Hassan, the ECP bench reserved verdict in the case.

The defence side including former attorney general for Pakistan (ECP) Anwar Mansoor Khan and financial expert Najam Shah had already concluded their arguments. The PTI has categorically stated that it fully cooperated with the Scrutiny Committee that investigated this case — having submitted the record of 40,000 donors and 16 volumes containing detailed evidence of overseas contributions/donations.

The former ruling party has further maintained that the record including the details of donations from overseas Pakistanis — including LCC (life cycle costing) account, the names, addresses, computerised national identity card numbers and contact numbers of the overseas donors, the details of related bank transactions, relevant bank statements, and receipts of relevant financial activities were submitted by the PTI to the scrutiny panel.

Moreover, the ex-ruling party has repeatedly demanded of the ECP to ensure the completion of probe by the Scrutiny Committee related to PML-N and PPP - and decide together the cases of PTI and these political parties in prohibited funding case.

However, the scrutiny panel’s investigations related to PML-N and PPP are still incomplete while the electoral body has failed to ensure this probe’s completion at the earliest.

In November 2014, Akbar Babar, one of the founding members of PTI, moved the ECP accusing the PTI of being a foreign-funded party and seeking action against it in accordance with related constitutional provisions.

In March 2018, the ECP formed the Scrutiny Committee to scrutinise the funds of PTI and to submit its report in a month but the committee failed to furnish its report within the given timeline.

The ECP, in November 2019, decided to accept the request of opposition parties to conduct on daily basis the hearing of the prohibited funding case related to the PTI and commenced proceedings of the case after a gap of 20 months.

Before this hearing, the ECP last held the regular hearing of this case in March 2018 when the Scrutiny Committee was formed to scrutinise the PTI funds. The PTI also requested the ECP that the prohibited funding case related to the PML-N and the PPP should also be heard by the ECP.

The ECP accepted this demand and commenced the proceedings of prohibited funding case related to the PML-N and the PPP in November 2019. In August 2020, the Scrutiny Committee submitted its report related to PTI into prohibited funding case to the ECP but the commission rejected this report, termed it incomplete and directed the committee to refurnish the report latest by October 22, 2020. But the committee failed to meet this deadline.

On October 23 last year, the ECP expressed “satisfaction” over the Scrutiny Committee’s progress into the case and allowed the panel to go ahead with the probe and complete the final report as “early as possible” but did not specify any timeframe in this regard.

In November last year, the committee finally completed its probe related to PTI and submitted the report to the ECP. Since January this year, the case was taken up for regular proceedings.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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