Islamabad – Former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan was disqualified Friday from running for political office for five years, after the country’s election commission ruled he misled officials about gifts he received from foreign leaders while in power.
The decision is another twist in political wrangling that began even before Khan’s April ouster, and is one of several legal battles being fought by the former international cricket star and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.
“The ECP (Election Commission of Pakistan) has declared Imran Khan was involved in corrupt practices,” Gohar Khan, one of his lawyers, told reporters, adding he had been disqualified for five years.
“We are going to challenge it in the Islamabad high court right now.”
Pakistan’s courts are often used to tie up lawmakers in lengthy proceedings that rights monitors criticise for stifling political opposition, but the commission’s involvement in this case stems from the obligation of elected officials to declare all their assets.
The case centres on a government department known as “Toshakhana”, which during the Mughal era referred to the “treasure houses” kept by the sub-continent’s princely rulers to store and display gifts lavished on them.
Government officials must declare all gifts, but are allowed to keep those below a certain value.
More expensive items must go to Toshakhana, but in some cases the recipient can buy them back at around 50 percent of their value — a discount Khan raised from 20 percent while in office.
Pakistan newspapers have for months carried lurid stories alleging Khan and his wife received lavish gifts worth millions during trips abroad.
They included luxury watches, jewellery, designer handbags and perfumes.
Khan is accused of failing to declare some gifts, or the profit made from selling them.
The complaint to the election commission was first brought when Khan was still in office by the Pakistan Democratic Movement, a coalition whose members now make up the government.
At the time, Khan said he had not made public some gifts on national security grounds, but in a written submission admitted buying items worth nearly 22 million rupees ($100,000), and later selling them for more than twice that amount.
He says the valuation was done through proper channels.
This week, Khan won six of eight national assembly seats he stood for in a weekend by-election, a vote he called a referendum on his popularity.
Individuals can stand in multiple constituencies in Pakistan elections and choose which to forfeit if they win more than one, but it is rare for a candidate to contest as many as Khan.
The 70-year-old has attempted to disrupt Pakistan’s political process since his April ouster when he ordered all his lawmakers to give up their seats, leaving no PTI members in the National Assembly.
He has also vowed to soon announce the date of a “long march” of his supporters on the capital to pressure the government to announce an earlier national election than that scheduled for October next year.
Khan regularly holds rallies drawing tens of thousands across the country, giving fiery speeches criticising state institutions — including the powerful military — for allegedly conspiring to topple his government.
He rode to power in 2018 on a populist platform promising social reforms, religious conservatism and a fight against corruption, overturning decades of rule by two feuding political dynasties interspersed with military takeovers.
But, under his tenure, the economy stagnated and he lost the support of the army, which was accused of helping to get him elected.