Imran Khan attends a PTI party meeting in Islamabad. File
Tariq Butt, Correspondent / Reuters
The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Wednesday rejected former prime minister and Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Imran Khan's request to withdraw a key appeal so he could move it to a different court in the city of Lahore, his lawyer said, a possible setback in his efforts to overturn a decision set to prevent his running in elections next year.
A division bench comprising IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri announced the verdict, which was reserved on Sept.13.
The reference alleging that Imran Khan — who is currently incarcerated at Adiala Jail Rawalpindi in the Toshakhana, Al Qadir Trust and cipher cases — had not shared details of the gifts he retained from the Toshakhana and proceeds from their reported sales was filed by lawmakers from the ruling coalition last year.
The PTI chief appealed last year in the IHC against the Election Commission of Pakistan's (ECP) finding that he had unlawfully sold state gifts. However, in January, Imran sought to withdraw that appeal so that another appeal at the Lahore High Court could proceed.
Imran Khan's lawyer Naeem Panjutha said the Islamabad High Court on Wednesday turned down Imran Khan's request to withdraw his appeal.
The ECP inquiry in 2022 found Imran unlawfully sold state gifts during his tenure as prime minister from 2019 to 2022. Imran has denied his behaviour was unlawful.
Imran Khan's lawyers had sought to withdraw the Islamabad court appeal so a later appeal they saw as more likely to legally undermine his electoral disqualification could proceed in the Lahore High Court.
An Islamabad district court also convicted Imran over the sale of state gifts in August, resulting in his arrest. The former premier has appealed the decision and a court later suspended his sentence but he remained imprisoned in a separate case.
The Toshakhana is a department under the Cabinet Division that stores gifts given to rulers and government officials by heads of other governments and foreign dignitaries.
According to Toshakhana rules, gifts/presents and other such materials received by persons to whom these rules apply shall be reported to the Cabinet Division. On Oct.21, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had concluded that the former premier had indeed made "false statements and incorrect declarations” regarding the gifts.
The ECP order had said Imran stood disqualified under Article 63(1)(p) of the Constitution. Subsequently, the ex-premier had approached the IHC against the electoral body’s decision contending that he had purchased the assets legally hence there was no reason for him not to mention the gifts in his assets statement. However, on Jan.18, the PTI filed a fresh plea in IHC seeking to withdraw the petition, saying that Imran wanted the Lahore High Court to hear the matter.
In a written order issued later on Wednesday, the IHC said the ECP had partially addressed arguments in the case and sought more time.
"In the interest of justice, an opportunity is allowed to the respondent to address arguments. On the next date of hearing, if arguments are not addressed by the respondent, the matter shall be decided on the basis of available record,” it stated and adjourned the hearing till Dec.11. It further said that the applicant may approach the Adiala Jail superintendent for meeting Imran and the former should entertain the request in accordance with relevant rules and regulations.
The reference was filed against Imran by the Pakistan Democratic Movement, for "not sharing details” of Toshakhana gifts and proceeds from their alleged sale.
The PTI, while in government, had been reluctant to disclose details of the gifts presented to Imran since he assumed office in 2018, maintaining that doing so would jeopardise international ties, even as the Pakistan Information Commission (PIC) ordered it to do so. But later, in a written reply submitted to the ECP on Sept.8, 2022, Imran Khan had admitted to selling at least four presents he had received during his tenure as the prime minister.
The 70-year-old cricket hero-turned-politician has been embroiled in a string of court cases since he was ousted in a parliamentary vote of confidence last year.
Pakistan's general election is set to take place on Feb.8.
The charge is related to a classified cable sent to Islamabad by Pakistan's ambassador in Washington last year, which Imran is accused of making public. Imran has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Later during the day, ̛mran filed nomination papers for the 2024 elections, local media Geo News reported. Imran filed his papers to contest a national assembly seat in his hometown Mianwali.
"Do not give up," Imran told his supporters in Thursday's statement. "Keep raising your voice against this unelected predatory group and their facilitators at every forum and keep demanding a fair and transparent election..."
The verdict declared both petitions as “without merit” and were “accordingly dismissed.” “It is clarified that any observations [made in this judgment] are tentative in nature and shall not prejudice learned trial court during the trial,” the decision said.
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