PTI Chairman Imran Khan on Wednesday said that he would approach courts against Geo/Jang Group in London and Dubai-based businessman Umar Farooq Zahoor in the gulf state for his “character assassination”, saying that he had no hope in Pakistan’s justice system.
A day ago, Zahoor appeared on Geo News programme Aaj Shahzeb Khanzada Kay Sath and claimed the PTI government had sold an expensive Graff wristwatch — gifted to Imran by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman — for $2 million, worth approximately Rs280m at the time of sale in 2019.
The Toshakhana case over the sale of state gifts received by Imran became a major sticking point in national politics after the Election Commission of Pakistan disqualified the PTI chief for making “false statements and incorrect declaration”.
After months of evading the topic, Imran admitted in a written reply on Sept 8 that he had sold at least four presents — including a Graff wristwatch — he had received during his tenure as the prime minister.
The matter again shot into the spotlight yesterday night as Zahoor claimed in the Geo News programme that he had bought the watch through former accountability minister Shahzad Akbar and Farah Khan, a close aide of Imran’s wife Bushra Bibi.
The Dubai-based businessman also claimed that Farah wanted to sell the watch for $4-5m “but after negotiations, I purchased it for $2 million”. The payment, he added, was made in cash on Farah’s insistence.
The claims evoked an outcry from PTI leaders, including Akbar who denied Zahoor’s allegations.
Speaking on the matter in a video address today, Imran alleged that the PML-N, Jang Group and Geo were in cahoots in conspiring and starting campaigns against him such as the foreign funding and Toshakhana references.
“Yesterday, this combination of the PML-N and Geo brought a “fraud” whose prior history was quickly exposed by social media,” Imran said.
“They brought that fraud and did a whole programme where he said Imran Khan’s watch was sold at such a high price … and they did a whole propaganda campaign [against me].”
Imran said he did not have any hope of justice from Pakistan’s legal system and had therefore decided to file a case in London against Geo Group and it would be made to answer for his character assassination.
“I will pursue a case against this person, this fraud, in Dubai, and I will file a case against Geo in Dubai and Pakistan. I have decided that now we will take them to court because we will prove that Geo Group’s method in the country is propaganda — its purpose is not freedom of journalism but it uses its media group for an agenda.
“This person they used and the programme they did […] if they did journalism with integrity then they’d have known he was a fraud […] he has no credibility and they wouldn’t have ever used such a witness,” the PTI chief said.
Imran also said that he had prior experience with the UK courts and that is why he would be pursuing a case there.
Imran had first announced his move to pursue legal proceedings and denied the programme’s allegations earlier in the day.
“Geo and Khanzada, supported by ‘handlers’, slandered me through a baseless story cooked up by a known fraudster and internationally wanted criminal,” he tweeted.
“I have spoken to my lawyers and I plan to sue Geo, Khanzada and the fraudster not only in Pak but also in UK and UAE.”
Fawad Chaudhry says watch ‘legally sold’
In a press conference earlier today, PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry also denied the allegations. However, he acknowledged that the gift was “legally” sold “in the market”.
He began the media talk by sharing details about the Graff wristwatch in question.
Elaborating on the procedure for receiving state gifts, he said the Saudi king gifted the watch during Imran’s trip to Saudi Arabia in 2018 when the PTI chief was the prime minister. Following due procedure, the watch was deposited in the Toshakhana department and its price was valued at approximately RS100m, Fawad added.
At the time, he recalled, public office holders could pay 20pc of the evaluated price of a gift and retain it. “Imran Khan paid 20pc of the evaluated price and it became his personal property,” Fawad contended, revealing that the watch was later “sold in the market for approximately Rs57m.
“Capital gains tax was paid for it accordingly and it was declared in Imran Khan’s returns as well as before the election commission.”
The watch, he asserted, was “never sold to anyone named Umar Zahoor.
“Neither was it ever handed over to Farah Gujjar for selling … and Ahsan Saleem Gujjar, who is Farah’s husband, clearly said [last] night that she never met him (Zahoor).”
In this connection, Fawad also highlighted Zahoor’s “very shady history”.
Zahoor is said to be an influential business personality and is apparently wanted by Norway, Switzerland, Turkiye and Pakistan since 2009-10 over various financial and other crimes.
The businessman also stands accused of taking his minor daughters abroad illegally after obtaining their passports under fictitious names and parentage, even though the Lahore High Court had already ordered that his name be placed on the Exit Control List.
Building his case on the basis of this information, Fawad alleged that Zahoor had named Akbar because the former accountability minister wanted his return to Pakistan.
But soon after the government changed, a first information report was registered against Akbar and late Federal Investigation Agency director Mohammad Rizwan at Islamabad’s Kohsar police station, he said. “Later, Zahoor’s name was removed from the ECL (Exit Control List) and a month after that, he holds this press conference.”
PML-N challenges Imran to go to court
Responding to Imran’s tweet earlier today, PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz demanded that he should “produce receipts”.
Meanwhile, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb challenged the PTI chief to go to court and called on him to tell the date when he would go instead of making announcements.
She also raised several questions about the giftset and said Imran would have to pay receipts for the sales. Aurangzeb further questioned what Khanzada and Geo were to blame for.
Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) Ataullah Tarar hinted that the government would start criminal proceedings against Imran in the Toshakhana case as per the Election Commission of Pakistan’s order.
He also said that the government would issue a red warrant for Farah’s return from the UAE.
Regarding the wristwatch, Tarar said it was the only one specially prepared by the Saudi crown prince for Pakistan and its price could not be matched with other items. He said that as per rules, any gift received from abroad was first deposited in the Toshakhana and later on another procedure of market evaluation was carried out if the recipient wanted to keep it.
“But nothing such thing happened in this case,” Tarar added.
Tarar said that as per the market evaluation that was carried out, the watch giftset’s price stood at around $12 million — almost Rs1.7 billion at that time and now Rs2bn.
He alleged that Imran bought the watch giftset at Rs20m only, without adopting the laid down procedure. “And now, he (Imran) has confessed to committing two crimes which are buying and selling it,” the SAPM added.
Tarar regretted that the “unique gift” was not meant to be sold in the open market as it was given as a gesture of “great love and respect to Pakistan”.
Separately, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif welcomed Imran’s move to approach the court over the matter and said the development would bring the record of the matter to light, including the individuals involved in the affair.