By Amjad Ali
Islamabad, Mar 16 (EFE).- Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan is accused of keeping several state gifts received during his tenure, including expensive ornaments and luxury watches, without having paid the appropriate sum as required by the law.
The gifts, which Khan retained after losing power in a no confidence motion in April last year, were supposedly obtained for a lesser value and sold at their actual price, thus bringing the former leader large amounts in profit that would otherwise belong to the state coffers.
Khan has been absent from several subpoenas in this case, citing health and safety reasons following an assassination attempt on him in November last year, and has resisted an arrest warrant, as he remains shielded by his followers in the city of Lahore.
His residence has been under siege by the police since Tuesday in an attempt to arrest him, while clashes with his supporters have left several wounded.
The government published Sunday a list of items registered since 2002 in the Toshakhana, or the depository of gifts received by state officials. As per Pakistani law, the dignitaries can retain the gifts received by them by paying 50 percent of their assessed value.
Khan and his wife received expensive wristwatches – a Rolex and a Graff -, a couple of ornaments, a ring and other luxury items that they never deposited in the Toshakhana, according to records. These items were allegedly sold later.
After the country’s courts admitted a case in this regard, Pakistan’s election regulator in October last year disqualified Khan from holding public office, ruling that he had failed to declare assets he earned from the sale of state gifts.
Current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif claimed that Khan sold state gifts worth $635,497 in Dubai, which however was denied by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party (PTI), led by the former premier.
The case against Khan has raised questions over the policy where state dignitaries, while receiving expensive presents, spend large amounts of public money on gifting their foreign officials in a reciprocal gesture. These expenses are not made public.
“When a public office holder receives a gift, they also give gifts to the other side and these presents are purchased by the state” Pakistan’s former Foreign Minister Khurram Dastgir told EFE.
Experts also claim the cost of the gifts would have been much more if inflation and the real exchange rate were taken into account.
“If we take inflation and exchange rate into account the damages to the state exchequer get multiplied by three to four times,” Farrukh Saleem, an economist, told EFE, adding that the law dealing with Toshakhana should be amended and retaining gifts banned.
According to the Toshakhana list, several other former senior public officials in the country retained numerous presents, from luxury cars to cufflinks, by paying a minimum amount or, in some cases, even free.
The late military ruler Pervez Musharraf, as well as former prime ministers Yousuf Raza Gilani, Nawaz Sharif, Raja Parvaiz Ashraf are among the leaders whose names also came up.
Musharraf and his family received dozens of gifts during his tenure, most of them at no extra cost or after having paid a meager amount, and among them are three Toyota cars whose value could not be assessed as they were never deposited in Toshakhana.
Former President Asif Zardari received at least 182 gifts, among them the most expensive gifts retained by a head of state. In 2019, he kept a BMW and a Toyota Lexus paying only about 17 percent of their value. EFE