Courtesy: Dawn News
In yet another blow to Imran Khan and his party, the former premier and his wife Bushra Bibi on Wednesday were sentenced to 14 years in jail in the Toshakhana reference.
Last month, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had filed a fresh reference against the two in an accountability court for retaining a jewellery set received from Saudi crown prince against an undervalued assessment.
This is Imran’s third conviction, including the one in the cipher case a day earlier
He is already out of the race for the February 8 general elections
“Why are you in a hurry?” Imran asks judge during hearing
An Islamabad accountability court had indicted Imran and Bushra in the reference earlier this month. The anti-graft watchdog alleged in the reference that during his term as prime minister, Imran and his wife had received a total of 108 gifts from different heads of state and foreign dignitaries.
The verdict comes eight days before the February 8 general elections, which the PTI is contesting amid a state crackdown and without an electoral symbol.
Today’s conviction is Imran’s third. A day earlier, a special court established under the Official Secrets Act sentenced Imran and his foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to 10 years in prison for the breach of state secrets.
Previously, he was convicted in a separate Toshakhana case on Aug 5, and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. The Islamabad High Court (IHC) had suspended his sentence, however, a division bench had later rejected Imran’s petition seeking the suspension of the conviction.
According to the verdict delivered today, Imran and Bushra were barred from holding any public office for 10 years and slapped with a fine of Rs787 million each. While the PTI founder was presented during the hearing, his wife did not appear before the court.
The judge had already closed the right of cross-examination of the prosecution witnesses and asked Imran and his spouse to record their statements under Section 342 (power to examine the accused) of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
Shahbaz Khosa, PTI lawyer Latif Khosa’s son, had been representing Imran and Bushra in the case. However, when the stage of cross-examining the witnesses arrived, lawyer Zaheer Abbas Chaudhry appeared before the court and submitted a Power of Attorney from Imran.
He sought more time to prepare for the case, at which the prosecution pointed out that Chaudhry was the ninth counsel from the defence side and termed it a part of delaying tactics.
A day ago, after the cipher case proceedings, Bushra Bibi recorded her statement in the Toshakhana case, though Imran could not. During that hearing, Imran’s legal team had requested the court to restore the right of cross-examination but was turned down by the judge.
Today, accountability Judge Mohammad Bashir conducted the hearing at Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail, where the former premier is incarcerated.
After his attendance was marked, the court asked him about his statement, to which the former premier replied: “My statement is in the [prison] room. I was only called for marking attendance.”
He was then told to submit his statement immediately and “not waste the court’s time”.
“Why are you in a hurry? Even yesterday, the conviction was announced in haste,” the ex-prime minister said, referring to the verdict in the cipher case.
“My lawyers are not here yet. I will submit the statement after showing it to them when they come,” Imran said, adding that he had appeared before the court only to mark his attendance.
He then exited the courtroom, after which the court sentenced the ex-premier and his wife in absentia.
Following the verdict’s announcement, Bushra arrived at Adiala Jail, where the NAB team was already present, to surrender to the authorities following the court’s directives. She was subsequently taken into custody by the anti-graft watchdog.
Reacting to the conviction, the PTI said, “Complete destruction of every existing law in Pakistan in two days.”
In a post on X, the party said Imran and his spouse had faced “yet another kangaroo trial in which no right to defence was given to both”.
“Like cipher, this case has no basis to stand in any higher court. It’s shameful how a complete disregard and mockery of the law is in place,” the PTI added.
PTI leader Barrister Gohar Ali Khan said that the conviction was “not only injustice but cruelty”. In an apparent reference to the PML-N, he said the NAB was “withdrawing cases filed against a certain party” but at the same time was handing over “severe punishments just to make one leader happy”.
Speaking to Geo News, he said, “We were not given time, were not given permission for cross-examination, despite there being a lawyer present.”
He claimed that Bushra had “no relation” to the Toshakhana case nor was there any case gift registered in her name.
“This is only to bring Khan sahib under pressure,” he said, advising PTI supporters to remain calm and focus on the upcoming polls.
Hamid Khan, a senior lawyer and PTI leader, said that two convictions in two days showed how all the laws and procedures of a fair trial were exploited.
“No legal requirements were fulfilled, […] the permission to present witnesses was not provided. The statements under Section 342 were not even recorded properly,” he said while speaking to Geo News.
Hamid said the party would appeal both the cipher and Toshakhana convictions in higher courts, while PTI Secretary General Omar Ayub Khan announced the same.
“We should harness and channel these energies for the polling day on February 8, 2024 by ensuring a massive voter turnout,” Ayub asserted.
We will appeal against this decision in the High Court & continue our legal battle. We should harness and channel these energies for the polling day on 8th February 2024 by ensuring a massive voter turnout -@OmarAyubKhan #ناانصافی_کا_بدلہ_ووٹ_سے
— PTI (@PTIofficial) January 31, 2024
https://t.co/NCqtOiNlrb“Why does this system want to expose itself so badly? asked PTI’s Taimur Saleem Khan Jhagra, while party leader Shahbaz Gill said the PTI was “hurt” by what was happening but was proud of Imran’s “bravery”.
PTI Senator and lawyer Ali Zafar said the verdict was rushed, adding that if cross-examination was not allowed then the conviction would be regarded as a mistrial.
Speaking to Geo News, he said: “People are not worried by such trials.”
Speaking to the media outside the Islamabad High Court, Zafar said that reports of changing Imran’s counsel were “not correct”.
He said that Shahbaz Khosa had remained the lawyer from the beginning of the Toshakhana trial. He emphasised that there was a team of additional lawyers who were “not replacements” for the main counsel.
Zafar highlighted that Imran and Bushra’s counsels were neither allowed to cross-examine the prosecution witnesses nor were permitted to present their witnesses. The PTI senator said the party was filing an application to obtain a copy of the court order.
PTI lawyer Intazar Hussain Panjutha claimed that there were no witnesses in the cases against Imran, yet he was still given punishment.
‘Certified Toshakhana thief’
Meanwhile, the PML-N’s official X account said that “fake sadiq and ameen” had been proven to be a “certified Toshakhana thief in front of the world today”.
PML-N leader Attaullah Tarar alleged that Imran had a “team that used to sell the items on the black market”, referring to Toshakhana gifts.
Addressing a press conference in Lahore, he claimed that the PTI founder undervalued Toshakhana gifts through local markets and then paid the required 50 per cent tax on that
“The items were subsequently sold in the black market for a much higher price for profit. Farah Gogi, who’s an absconder in the case, played a key role in it,” the PML-N leader said.
Similarly, PML-N leader Marriyum Aurangzeb alleged that government officials collaborated in the assessment to undervalue the gifts in the Toshakhana reference.
“It was a misuse of authority and they blamed everyone else for it,” she said in a separate press conference.
Reacting to the verdict today, senior journalist Mazhar Abbas said that the timing of the conviction would be discussed in political circles. At the same time, he said he did not expect PTI workers or leaders to react to the conviction.
“The reaction to all of this would be important on February 8. Would they be demoralised and stay in their homes or would they come out politically charged?” he said while speaking to Geo News.
Commenting on the conduct of the PTI’s legal team, Abbas said that there appeared to be a “problem”. He highlighted how several PTI lawyers had come and go, but added that this could also be due to professional differences.
It should be noted that in a recent hearing, Imran had said his lawyers could not appear before the court as they were contesting the upcoming general elections.
Senior journalist Hamir Mir said that today’s verdict was not unexpected for “those in the know”. He said that it was expected for Imran to be convicted in several cases in the run-up to the general elections.
He stated that the “scales have been balanced” now that the same judge who had convicted PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif in 2018 had done the same to Imran. He said that PTI supporters knew that Imran would “ultimately” be convicted before February 8.
Political analyst Mosharraf Zaidi said that “such sentences in such cases” against former premiers had been the norm in Pakistani politics.
“We have seen this in the past that such cases were heard against former premiers and such sentences were given, and then after a while they were released in these cases only,” he said.
Interim Balochistan Information Minister Jan Achakzai said the court decision proved that “no one is above the law and no one can get away with abusing the trust of people”.
On Dec 19, the NAB filed the Toshakhana reference against Imran and his wife in an accountability court for retaining a jewellery set received from the Saudi crown prince against an undervalued assessment. It alleged that during his term as premier, the PTI founder and Bushra Bibi had received a total of 108 gifts from different heads of state and foreign dignitaries.
“Out of these 108 gifts, the accused persons retained 58 gift boxes/sets against an undervalued amount of Rs142.1 million as assessed by appraisers,” the reference said.
The instant reference pertains only to the Graff jewellery set received from Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman and retained against a highly undervalued assessment by the above-mentioned accused persons. It said the NAB chairman delegated the powers to authorise an inquiry on the subject matter to director general NAB, Rawalpindi, on Aug 1, 2022. The DG authorised an inquiry on Aug 5, 2022. Subsequently, the inquiry was upgraded into the investigation on July 14, 2023.
During the course of inquiry, it transpired that during his tenure as PM, Imran Khan and his wife received 108 gifts. It emerged during the course of investigation that accused Bushra Imran, being wife of accused, received a Graff jewellery set from the crown prince of Saudi Arabia during an official visit. The gift was reported to Toshakhana of the cabinet division by deputy military secretary vide letter dated 24.09.2020 but the same was not deposited in accordance with Procedure for the Acceptance and Disposal of Gifts 2018 for true and transparent assessment.
“As per evidence collected so far, Bushra Bibi, in connivance with Imran Khan, violated the clause-1 of the procedure by not depositing the gift at Toshakhana prior to its retention. The accused in connivance with each other, unlawfully exerted pressure and undue influence on Sohaib Abbasi, private appraiser (approver) through Syed Inam Ullah Shah (former PS/comptroller to Imran Khan /PM Office) in order to have illegally undervalued assessment of Graff jewellery set of their own choice and illegally retained the same against payment of meager amount of Rs9.031 million (approx.) on the basis of undervalued price assessment of Rs18,092,000,” the reference said.
It said it was established that the assessment conducted by Sohaib Abbasi and government appraiser was highly undervalued. For the purpose of true assessment, an expert from Diamond and Jewellery industry namely Imran Bashir of Rainbow Impex FZE, Dubai, was also engaged to assist the anti-graft watchdog in investigation of the case.