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How a 2013 Charity T20 Tournament Held in UK Could Derail Imran Khan’s Re-election Bid

By: News Desk


Last Updated: July 29, 2022, 14:04 IST

London/ Islamabad

Imran Khan (R) promised to run a nation free of corruption but his party allegedly received $2.12 million illegally through a cricket tournament hosted by Arif Naqvi (L) (Image: Reuters)

Imran Khan (R) promised to run a nation free of corruption but his party allegedly received $2.12 million illegally through a cricket tournament hosted by Arif Naqvi (L) (Image: Reuters)

Imran Khan’s PTI received a funding of $2.12mn through Dubai-based Abraaj Group but the Pakistan election commission is probing it since foreign funding for political parties is prohibited

A multimillion dollar campaign funding scam could challenge Pakistan cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan’s re-election bid next year.

A report by the Financial Times revealed that Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) received millions of dollars in donations from Pakistani tycoon Arif Naqvi, founder of the Dubai-based Abraaj Group, through a so-called charity fundraiser cricket tournament and also from an Abu Dhabi minister.

The report outlined Naqvi organised a charity cricket tournament where Imran Khan was invited to play.

The tournament held between 2010 and 2012, in an unofficial setting, with teams with invented names like the Peshawar Perverts or the Faisalabad Fothermuckers, raised millions of dollars for the PTI.

The ECP rules prohibit foreign funding in Pakistan’s elections and the so-called Wootton Cricket Ltd is registered in the UAE and funds were also sent from an UAE minister through Wootton Cricket’s accounts - leading to a range of allegations with potential to hurt Imran Khan’s re-election bid ahead of the 2023 polls.

The PTI lost the 2013 elections as Imran Khan lost to Nawaz Sharif but he became victorious in 2017 as he won by a landslide margin.

Imran Khan appealed to the people of Pakistan that he will stop corruption and bring about monumental changes to the way Pakistan was being administered.

However, the recent findings by the Financial Times which shed light on how Imran Khan procured funds could hurt him.

Khan, ousted in no-confidence vote earlier this year, continues to allege that a foreign conspiracy was responsible for his ouster.

The tournament and the funding

In the Oxfordshire village of Wootton, Pakistani tycoon Arif Naqvi invited hundreds of bankers, investors and lawyers between 2010 to 2012 to the Wootton T20 Cup.

The tournament is now a part of an investigation by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) who is probing the tournament for funding the PTI illegally.

The Financial Times report found out that a bank account was set up for Wootton Cricket Ltd but instead of being a legitimate company it was found that it was a Cayman Islands-incorporated company owned by Naqvi.

The transactions that drew the suspicion of the Election Commission of Pakistan were transactions made in March 2013 when Wootton Cricket received $1.3 million from Naqvi’s Abraaj Investment Management Ltd.

Abraaj Investment Management Ltd was the tycoon’s fund management unit of the group he owned.

On the same day, the full amount was transferred to an account which belonged to Imran Khan’s PTI.

The Financial Times also checked the bank statement and a copy of the Swift transfer details and found that shortly after the 1.3mn transfer, the Wootton Cricket bank account received $2mn from Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak al-Nahyan in April 2013.

Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak al-Nahyan is a member of the UAE royal family and is the chair of Pakistan’s Bank Alfalah and also UAE government minister.

Then a week later $1.2mn from the $2mn were again sent to Wootton Cricket account, registered in the UAE.

The money was sent in two instalments to fund Imran Khan’s campaign ahead of the 2013 general elections.

Rafique Lakhani, a senior Abraaj executive, the Financial Times report found, was the point man for ensuring the cash transfers were made in a timely manner.

In May 2013, the $1.2mn were transferred in two instalments to businessman Tariq Shafi in Karachi and to an entity named the Insaf Trust in Lahore.

The news agency found that the amount was transferred to PTI for election funding.

The news agency questioned Imran Khan regarding the money. He said he participated in the Wootton T20 Cricket Cup which he said was attended by PTI supporters while suggesting that Shafi must be questioned regarding the origin of one half of the instalment of $1.2mn dollars he received, despite it being established that the money was given to his party.

The tycoon Naqvi is facing several charges of fraud, theft and attempted bribery in the US and could face up to 297 years in jail if convicted.

He was arrested at London’s Heathrow airport in April 2019 after returning from Pakistan. His phone was seized and inside investigators found Khan’s telephone number in the list of contacts.

Naqvi is also being probed for alleged irregularities in a fund intended to buy and build hospitals across Africa and Asia. The probe was initiated by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Naqvi also gave a written statement to the Election Commission of Pakistan where he, on record, said: “I have not collected any funds from any person of non-Pakistani origin, company [public or private] or any other prohibited source.”

Imran Khan also says he was ‘unaware’ that the $1.3mn was Abraaj providing $1.3mn through Wootton Cricket.

The news report revealed that Abraaj offset the cost to a holding company through which it controlled K-Electric, an energy provider based out of Karachi, once owned by Naqvi but sold off to Shanghai Electric Power for $1.77bn in 2016.

Naqvi Sat With the World’s Most Powerful

In Abraaj’s heyday, Naqvi was a regular fixture at the World Economic Forum meetings in Davos.

He rubbed shoulders with Carlos Ghosn, the former Nissan chair accused of financial wrongdoing and influential personalities like former US secretary of state John Kerry.

Ghosn and Naqvi were board members of the Interpol Foundation, which raises funds for the UN group.

Naqvi was also an important part of the Obama Administration who pledged $150mn to an Abraaj fund investing in Middle Eastern companies with the hope of improving economic relations with Islamic nations.

The former tycoon was also active in one of British Royal Family member Prince Charles’ charities - the British Asian Trust - and was also a board member of the UN Global Compact, which advises the UN secretary-general.

Naqvi, who was once lauded of not being corrupt and doing things by the book, also authorised a $20mn payment for Pakistan politicians to gain their support to sell K-Electric to the Shanghai Electric Power.

The money was to be sent to Pakistan prime minister Shehbaz Sharif and elder brother Nawaz Sharif - who also was hosted to a January 2017 dinner by Naqvi at Davos. Both brother deny receiving any money.

Naqvi could be extradited to the US and the trial is ongoing, slated to finish later this year. Wootton Place, where the cricket tournament was held, was sold to a hedge fund manager in 2020 for £12.25mn.

No Harm to Imran’s Reelection Bid

Despite the allegations, which are also complex in nature to be explained to the Pakistani common man, it is expected that the turmoil caused by the alleged foreign funding will be debated and discussed but may not hurt Imran in the 2023 polls.

People are angered at the Sharif-led government for failing to address economic and energy crises and PTI still has popular support.

The Financial Times spoke to experts who feel that Imran Khan could manipulate the news report to show that global media is against him returning to power in Pakistan and may pass it off as a conspiracy. He also has called the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) ‘dishonest’ and fraudulent.

The ECP has been investigating the irregularities in the fundings received by the PTI for over seven years. Akbar S Babar, who helped establish the PTI, filed a complaint in December 2014, which led to the investigation.

Babar believes that there has been ‘prohibited funding’ despite the party chief Khan insisting that Pakistanis worldwide donated money and pretended to be unaware of the $2mn which were sent from the UAE minister.

The total of $2.12mn sent to the PTI is a matter of investigation but PTI supporters are likely to be unfazed by the fact that their leader did not stand by the very cause he himself was promoting - a corruption free Pakistan.

(with inputs from Financial Times)

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first published:July 29, 2022, 13:26 IST
last updated:July 29, 2022, 14:04 IST
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