Thursday, August 24, 2023

IHC adjourns hearing on Imran's plea against Toshakhana verdict till tomorrow

PTI chief counsel requests IHC to suspend conviction and declare trial court's judgement "illegal"

Policemen escorting Pakistans former PM Imran Khan as he arrived at IHC on May 12, 2023. — AFP
Policemen escorting Pakistan's former PM Imran Khan as he arrived at IHC on May 12, 2023. — AFP 

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has adjourned the hearing on Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan's petition challenging his conviction in the Toshakhana case till 11.30pm tomorrow (Friday).

After lawyer Khawaja Haris parted ways with the PTI chief's legal team, advocate Latif Khosa represented the PTI chief in the IHC.

Two-member IHC bench comprising Chief Justice Aamer Farooq and Tariq Memhmood Jahangiri conducted the hearing on the PTI chief's plea against the Toshakhana verdict on Thursday.

At the outset of the hearing, Khosa implored the court to suspend the PTI chief’s conviction on three grounds, one of which he said that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to hear the Toshakhana case.

He claimed that the sessions court did not have the jurisdiction to hear ECP’s appeal.

“It [ECP] should have sorted out the jurisdiction matter first.”

He said that the electoral body could authorise one of its officers to file a complaint.

In this case, the ECP secretary asked the district election commissioner to file a complaint, he added.

The counsel added that ECP did not seek permission before filing a complaint. At this, ECP lawyer Amjad Parvez maintained that the ECP's permit to file the complaint was on record.

However, Khosa replied that this permission had been given by the election commission secretary, which was not lawful.

The high court sent the petition to the trial court for a new decision, he said, adding that the complaint cannot be sent directly to the sessions judge because it is supposed to be sent to the magistrate first.

"The sessions court cannot hear the complaint directly," he contended.

The PTI chief’s counsel pointed out “flaws” in the trial court's verdict and added that the court the petitioner’s constitutional rights were violated as he was not allowed to present witnesses in his defence before the court.

On Tuesday, the IHC bench had adjourned the plea's hearing till today (Thursday) while turning down the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) request for granting them two weeks to get the record.

On August 5, the former prime minister, who is currently incarcerated in Attock jail, was found guilty of corrupt practices in the case of misdeclaration of state gifts. 

The trial court in the federal capital had sentenced Khan to three-year in prison upon conviction, a move which is likely to bar him from standing in elections due later this year.

However, the PTI filed an appeal in the IHC challenging the trial court's verdict and sentence against the party chief, requesting that the court declare the judgment "illegal" earlier this month.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court (SC) which heard a petition challenging IHC's decision to remand the case back to the trial court judge who had convicted him, observed that the trial court had hastened Toshakhana verdict.

It acknowledged the “procedural defects” in Khan's conviction, but opted to wait for the IHC’s decision on the former premier's plea seeking suspension of the three-year sentence.

“Prima facie the decision by the additional sessions judge (ASJ) contains defects, but we will not intervene at this stage; rather [we will] wait for the outcome of the high court decision,” Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial observed.

The plea

Challenging the trial court's verdict in IHC, the PTI sought the suspension of his conviction by Additional District and Sessions Judge (ADSJ) Humayun Dilawar.

"It is most respectfully prayed that the Hon'ble Court may graciously be pleased to set aside the impugned judgement dated 05.08.2023, and declare the conviction, sentence imposed upon the Appellant to be illegal and without lawful authority and to acquit the Appellant of the charges framed against him," the petition read.

Besides the sentence of incarceration, the additional district and sessions judge also imposed a fine of Rs100,000 after finding Khan guilty of graft in the Toshakhana case.

Following the arrest of the PTI chief, it was the third petition the party had filed.

A day earlier, PTI also announced to move Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) against IHC CJ Chief Justice Aamer Farooq for not suspending Khan’s sentence.

What is Toshakhana case?

Under the rules governing Toshakhana — a Persian word meaning "treasure house" — government officials can keep gifts if they have a low worth, while they must pay a dramatically reduced fee to the government for extravagant items.

The Toshakhana has been under a microscope ever since the emergence of the allegations that Khan purchased the gifts he received as prime minister at throwaway rates and sold them off in the open market for staggering profits.

The 70-year-old cricketer-turned-politician was accused of misusing his 2018 to 2022 premiership to buy and sell gifts in state possession that were received during visits abroad and worth more than Rs140 million ($635,000).

The gifts included watches given by a royal family, according to government officials, who have alleged previously that Khan's aides sold them in Dubai.

Moreover, seven wristwatches, six made by watchmaker Rolex, and the most expensive a "Master Graff limited edition" valued at 85 million Pakistani rupees ($385,000), was also among the gifts.

A reference was forwarded by National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervez Ashraf to the Election Commission asking it to probe the matter.

In October 2022, the electoral body also declared the former premier guilty of corrupt practices and filed a complaint in an Islamabad court.