The Supreme Court has again become the last hope for PTI Chairman Imran Khan since the court can rescue him from disqualification in the Toshakhana (gift repository) case as it had declared him “honest and trustworthy” in PML-N leader Hanif Abbasi’s case before the last general elections.
During his term as the premier, Imran had realised that the case might land him in hot water.
When the matter came up in the Islamabad High Court (IHC), the PTI chief had asked the then attorney general for Pakistan (AGP) Khalid Javed Khan to personally appear before Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb to resist any direction for disclosure of details about the gifts given to him by foreign dignitaries.
However, he was ousted in April 2022 and the current government decided to make public details of all the gifts given to the former premier during his term.
Subsequently, PML-N lawyer Mohsin Ranjha approached the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for his disqualification on account of his mis-declaration about the purchase and sale of Toshakhana gifts.
In October 2022, the ECP declared the PTI chief guilty and held that he made “false statements and incorrect declaration”. The commission ruled that the PTI chief committed the offence of corrupt practices defined under Section 167 and 173 of the Elections Act, 2017.
These practices are punishable under Section 174 of the Elections Act.
“The office is directed to initiate legal proceedings and to take follow-up action under Section 190(2) of the Elections Act, 2017,” the ECP judgment added. Last year, the ECP filed a complaint in a sessions court in Islamabad for Imran’s disqualification.
Now the trial in Toshakhana case is at its final stage and the trial court has summoned the PTI chief to give testimony under Section 342. Earlier, Imran challenged the maintainability of this complaint, but was unable to receive complete relief from the IHC.
Therefore, the PTI chief approached the apex court for relief.
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Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial has listed this matter before a division bench of the apex court comprising Justice Yahya Afridi and Justice Musarrat Hilali for hearing on Wednesday (today).
Both these judges belong to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Justice Afridi is known as a judge whose integrity is beyond any doubt.
However, he is also famous for his ‘unpredictability’. Since his elevation to the SC, he has mostly recused himself from hearing suo motu cases. Justice Afridi dismissed a constitution petition filed by Justice Qazi Faez Isa against the presidential reference seeking his removal.
However, he accepted the superior bars’ petitions in this case.
Out of a five-member larger bench, Justice Afridi was the only judge, who held that a contempt notice should be issued to Imran over the violation of the May 25 orders wherein the PTI protesters were restricted from reaching near D-Chowk in Islamabad.
He also dissented with the majority opinion over the presidential reference filed by the PTI government in connection with holding the Senate elections through open ballots without a constitutional amendment.
Justice Afridi declared that the reference was not maintainable and termed the Senate elections matter as a political one. The judge also dismissed petitions over the delay in the announcement of the dates for holding the elections to Punjab and K-P assemblies.
He noted that the matter should be decided in the high courts first.
Recently, the CJP listed Imran’s petition before Justice Afridi’s bench seeking quashing of an FIR registered against him in the Abdul Razaq Shar murder case.
The PTI chief succeeded in acquiring interim relief from his bench on Monday.
Interestingly, Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi is not part of the bench hearing Imran’s petition in the Toshakhana case.
It was witnessed that when the trial was under way in the Panama Papers case, then prime minister Nawaz Sharif approached the apex court for relief but then CJP Saqib Nisar turned him down.
Now Imran is approaching the top court in a similar situation.
PML-N lawyers believe that the IHC judgment in the Toshakhana case has already been implemented and the matter has become infructuous.
However, PTI lawyers are hopeful that notices will be issued to the respondents and a stay order will be granted on the proceedings of the trial court in the case. If this happens, it will be a major setback for those who are trying hard to have Imran disqualified before the general elections.
There is also a chance that the SC bench may restrain the trial court from making the final decision in the matter until the former’s concluding judgment.