Journalist behind the ‘gift scam’ rocking Pakistan

The ‘Toshakhana case’ against former PM Imran Khan was unearthed by a TV reporter. The snowballing controversy has revealed the involvement of a large number of politicians and civil servants.

Imran Khan supporters protest in Lahore.
Imran Khan supporters protest in Lahore.

S Khurram Raza

As Pakistan Rangers temporarily retreated from the Zaman Park residence of former Prime Minister Imran Khan at Lahore, Islamabad High Court reserved its order on his prayer for cancelling warrants for his arrest. An Islamabad sessions court had issued non-bailable warrants to arrest the former PM for failing to appear before the court in the Toshakhana case which has rocked Pakistan.

The former Prime Minister stands accused of receiving a wrist watch gifted to him abroad but sending it out in a private ship to Dubai where it was sold. The proceeds, it has been alleged, were never deposited back into his account. The former PM is also accused of forging a receipt in Pakistan for the sale. While the case has been going on for the past several months, the non-bailable warrants of arrest, which require Imran Khan to be produced before the court by March 18, triggered clashes between the police and his supporters.

The ’gift scam’ in Pakistan snowballed over the weekend as the government released a list of gifts received by dignitaries and deposited in the ‘Toshakhana’. The list also shows the gifts which were claimed by recipients and others after paying a nominal amount as per the rules. The list revealed the names of former Presidents, Prime Ministers, ministers, civil servants, judges and even valets at the PM’s residence and office and police constables.

Pakistan’s Dawn     reported that former President Asif Ali Zardari had taken away a BMW and a Lexus car after paying a fraction of their cost. Practically all Prime Ministers of the country, from Shaukat Aziz to Shehbaz Sharif, their staff members and family, retained or bought the ‘gifts’ back from the Toshakhana.

The list of ‘gifts’ not only includes expensive cars,  jewellery and wrist watches but also shirts, cufflinks, ornamental daggers and handkerchiefs.

While the list has caused a national furore, the price or value of many of the gifts remain unknown. What is also not known are the names of the benefactors who parted with the gifts abroad. Outraged Pakistanis are asking whether there was any quid-pro-quo and what kind of return gifts were given away by Pakistani dignitaries.

The ’Toshakhana’, a government department which receives and maintains the gifts received by Presidents, ministers and civil servants, was forced to part with the details following efforts by Rana Khalid Abrar, a TV reporter, who was alerted to the irregularities and sought details under the Access to Information Act. Eventually the court ordered the department to come out with the details.    

A ’federal secretary’ tried to dissaude him with an offer of several Crores of Rupees as the price for his silence. He and his mother were harassed by agencies when he refused to relent. He lost his job with the TV channel following pressure put by the government and he remains jobless. He was also framed in a false case and arrested. 

The charges against Imran Khan range from not paying the enhanced slab rate of 50% for the gifts, raised from the earlier 20% of the value to determining the value of the gifts arbitrarily without recourse to a valuation committee. He is accused of selling one of the gifts, a wristwatch, abroad but failing to deposit the proceeds in the treasury. He is also accused of not revealing the ‘asset’ to the Election Commission and violating customs and banking regulations.   The watch, claims Shehbaz Sharif, the present Prime Minister, was valued at several crores of Rupees.

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