UK-based Pak businessman under scanner used charity cricket match to fund Imran party: Report

A UK-based Pakistani businessman, who is facing charges of siphoning funds in the US, provided foreign funding to former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party by organising private cricket matches, the Financial Times has reported. The daily reported that Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, also received funding from a minister in the UAE who is a member of the royal family.

The Pakistani businessman, Arif Naqvi, 62, founder of Dubai-based Abraaj Group, was indicted in the US in 2019 on charges of siphoning funds from the Gates Foundation and other investors, meant for building hospitals across Asia and Africa. Arrested from London’s Heathrow Airport in April 2019, Naqvi is reported to be “effectively in house arrest”. He faces 291 years in jail, if found guilty of the US charges. His appeal against extradition to the US is expected to conclude later this year.

The revelations can be damaging for Khan, who portrays himself as an anti-corruption crusader against the established political parties run by families in Pakistan. The matter is being investigated by Pakistan’s Election Commission.

According to the report, Naqvi presided over the “Wootton T20 Cup” from 2010 to 2012 – the primary event was a cricket match between groups with invented names – that was used to collect between 2,000 pounds and 2,500 pounds from guests for unspecified “philanthropic causes”.

“It is the type of charity fundraiser repeated up and down the UK every summer. What makes it unusual is that the ultimate benefactor was a political party in Pakistan. The fees were paid to Wootton Cricket Ltd, which, despite the name, was a Cayman Islands-incorporated company owned by Naqvi, and the money was being used to bankroll Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Khan’s political party,” the Financial Times report said.

“Pakistan forbids foreign nationals and companies from funding political parties, but Abraaj emails and internal documents seen by the Financial Times, including a bank statement covering the period between February 28 and May 30, 2013 for a Wootton Cricket account in the UAE, show that both companies and foreign nationals as well as citizens of Pakistan sent millions of dollars to Wootton Cricket — before money was transferred from the account to Pakistan for the PTI,” the report said.

Khan, a World Cup-winning captain, presented himself ahead of the 2013 general elections in Pakistan as an anti-corruption crusader and his party became the third largest in the National Assembly..

The Pakistan Election Commission has been probing the funding of PTI for several years. According to the report, the investigation followed a complaint filed by Akbar S Babar, who helped establish the PTI, in December 2014.

The Financial Times report said that in January, the Pakistan Election Commission’s scrutiny committee issued a damning report in which it said the PTI received funding from foreign nationals and companies and accused it of under-reporting funds and concealing dozens of bank accounts.

“Wootton Cricket was named in the report, but Naqvi wasn’t identified as its owner… Wootton Cricket’s bank statement shows it received USD 1.3mn on March 14, 2013 from Abraaj Investment Management Ltd, the fund management unit of Naqvi’s private equity firm, boosting the account’s previous balance of USD 5,431. Later the same day, USD 1.3mn was transferred from the account directly to a PTI bank account in Pakistan. Abraaj expensed the cost to a holding company through which it controlled K-Electric, the power provider to Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city,” the report said.

An extra $2mn flowed into the Wootton Cricket account in April 2013 from Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak al-Nahyan, a member of Abu Dhabi’s royal household, minister and chair of Pakistan’s Bank Alfalah, the report said.

The report said that Imran Khan visited Wootton Place in 2002. In a written response to questions from the British newspaper, the former cricketer said he had gone for “a fundraising event which was attended by many PTI supporters”. Khan said that neither he nor his party was aware of Abraaj providing USD 1.3mn through Wootton Cricket.

“Arif Naqvi has given a statement which was filed before the Election Commission also, not denied by anyone, that the money came from donations during a cricket match and the money as collected by him was sent through his company Wootton Cricket,” Khan wrote. He said he was awaiting the report of the Election Commission’s investigation. “It will not be appropriate to prejudge PTI,” he said.