LONDON: Former prime minister Imran Khan has been sentenced to three years in prison for corrupt practices involving illegally selling state gifts and concealing assets in the Toshakhana case.
It was the evidence of Dubai-based businessman and Liberia’s Ambassador at Large Umar Farooq Zahoor in the Toshakhana scandal that proved crucial in the lead up to Khan’s trial and conviction, sealing the fate of the former prime minister for now.
While convicting the ex-PM and disqualifying him from politics for five years, Additional and Sessions Judge Humayun Dilwalaa found that Khan had “deliberately submitted fake details” of the gifts to the court and had been involved in corruption.
“His dishonesty has been established beyond doubt. “The allegations against Mr Khan are proven,” the judge in the judgement.
The judge’s verdict of “fake receipts” relates to Khan’s defence initially that he had sold the rare Graff watch — gifted to him by the crown prince of Saudi Arabia — to a local Islamabad watch seller and Khan’s legal team also produced receipts of the sale of the state gifts at cheap prices.
The scenario changed when Zahoor made a dramatic entry and revealed that he was the new owner of Diamond Master Graff Tourbillon Minute Repeater with Makkah Map Dial GM2751, known also as Master Graff limited edition valued at Rs85 million ($385,000).
In a major development, he revealed to Geo News that he had purchased the rare Master Graff watch and other Saudi-gifted items from the ex-premier and his wife Bushra Begum via the former first lady’s trusted friend Farah Gogi who was introduced to her by Shahzad Akbar, the former accountability advisor to Imran Khan.
Zahoor purchased four gifts (Diamond Master Graff with Makkah Map Dial, Diamond Cufflinks, Round Diamonds, Diamond Gent’s Ring, VVSl Rose Gold Pen Set with Pave Diamonds and Enamel Mecca Map) for a total 7.5 million AED Dirhams.
There was no doubt left to the new ownership of the rare Toshakhana gifts when Zahoor produced the watch and other gifts before the media and Khan’s team accepted that Zahoor was the new owner. A week before Khan’s conviction, Zahoor produced the same watch and other gift items in his interview with anchor Saleem Safi on Geo News.
Credible sources have shared with this reporter that Pakistani authorities conducted a detailed investigation into Zahoor’s claims of owning the Toshakhana gifts. A powerful team of investigators visited Dubai where Zahoor was interviewed and his sworn statements were taken. After that, the Pakistani diplomatic mission independently approached the original watch maker and obtained certifications and valuations showing that the watch was real and that Zahoor was the real owner of the watch sold by Imran Khan’s aides in the open market and that that claims of PTI about the watch sale are false.
Subsequently, Zahoor visited Pakistan and appeared before the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and other investigating bodies and confirmed his ownership of the watch as well as his own witness statement. Zahoor’s evidence forms centerpiece of corruption cases at the separate NAB, FIA and Toshakhana cases into the former prime minister.
After Zahoor came out publicly with the Toshakhana gifts, Khan and other PTI leaders attacked him and his family on media with the former PM announcing suing Zahoor in Dubai and hired a lawyer for this purpose.
Around four months ago, Dubai authorities told Khan’s lawyer no case against Zahoor will be allowed as he had not breached any laws.
After Zahoor revealed his ownership of four Toshakhana gifts of Khan, former PTI leader Fawad Chaudhary called him a dishonest person and accused that his entire family was involved in fraud. Zahoor hit back with releasing hundreds of conversations with Chaudhary, showing that not only the former PTI leader was calling him his “bhai” even after he made allegations against Farah Khan but also requested Zahoor to give job to his friend in his company and discussed buying Covid vaccine from him, shared secret government information with him and visited Dubai at Zahoor’s expense.
Zahoor and Imran Khan’s history dates back to 2019 and 2020 when two important events took place, respectively. The wealthy Dubai based businessman says Akbar introduced him to Farah Gogi for the first time in March 2019 and asked him to facilitate her. Negotiations started secretly and then Zahoor bought the four expensive items from Gogi, who is now blacklisted from Dubai after Pakistan approached the UAE authorities as well as Interpol in the same case.
Records show that Akbar and Zahoor got into a serious fight in early June 2020 when the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Lahore’s Corporate Circle started an investigation against him after receiving a complaint from a “concerned citizen Khushbakht Mirza” who made allegations of fraud and money-laundering of around Rs16 billion by Zahoor. It was not declared in the complaint that Khushbakht Mirza was actually Sophia Mirza, the former wife of Zahoor.
Mirza urged the FIA to take action against Zahoor “for the sake of Pakistan’s name and to prevent financial crimes against Pakistan” but didn’t declare that he was her former husband and the couple were involved in a court dispute.
Akbar, who was head of the Assets Recovery Unit (ARU) at that time and also controlled the FIA, took Sophia’s complaint to the cabinet and received a go-ahead for the FIA to probe the alleged fraud of over Rs16 billion by Zahoor. It was former PM Khan who approved investigations against Zahoor and a lethal state campaign started against him at the global level. The late FIA Lahore Chief Dr Rizwan led the campaign against Zahoor in Pakistan and outside on Akbar and Mirza’s behalf.
All cases against Zahoor have since then been closed by the courts and investigators due to lack of evidence of any wrongdoing but Zahoor didn’t come under pressure when PTI was in full control of power in Pakistan and when he came under attack in media after revealing his ownership of Khan’s Toshakhana gifts.
On Saturday, after Khan was arrested and taken to Attock jail for imprisonment, Umar Farooq Zahoor said he had been vindicated. He tweeted: “Alhamdullilah. I am vindicated. Imran Khan is found guilty of corruption. The court accepts my account that Imran Khan sold Graff watch to me for $2 million via Farah Gogi in Dubai. The court and evidence confirmed my facts.”
The Toshakhana has been under a microscope ever since the emergence of the allegations around two years ago that Khan purchased the gifts he received as prime minister at throwaway rates and sold them off in the open market for staggering profits but hiding the real income from Pakistani authorities. In October 2022, the electoral body declared the former premier guilty of corrupt practices and filed a complaint in an Islamabad court.
On October 21, 2022, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) maintained that the former prime minister made “false statements and incorrect declarations” about the gifts and disqualified him under Article 63(1)(p) of the Constitution. Subsequently, the election watchdog moved a sessions court in the federal capital, seeking criminal proceedings against the PTI chief for allegedly misleading the ECP regarding gifts received from foreign dignitaries while he was in office. The trial court indicted the PTI chairman on May 10 and rejected his petition to declare the case inadmissible. The case then moved to the court of Judge Humayun Dilawar who has now found Khan guilty of corruption.