‘Cricket match’ in UK created pitch for Imran Khan’s political rise, helped bankroll his party: Report
The report said that Pakistani tycoon Arif Naqvi, founder of Dubai-based Abraaj Group, presided over the “Wootton T20 Cup” from 2010 to 2012.
Former Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan (Photo by ARIF ALI/AFP via Getty Images)
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the party formed by former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan whose political rise has stemmed from anti-corruption rhetoric, had received funding via a private cricket tournament organised by a Pakistani tycoon, the Financial Times reported.
The report said that Pakistani tycoon Arif Naqvi, founder of Dubai-based Abraaj Group, presided over the “Wootton T20 Cup” from 2010 to 2012 that had invented names – the Peshawar Perverts or the Faisalabad Fothermuckers. The guests were asked to pay between 2,000 pounds and 2,500 each to attend with the money going to unspecified “philanthropic causes”. They played on an immaculate pitch amid 14 acres of formal gardens and parkland at Wootton Place, Naqvi’s 17th-century residence.
“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,” a Financial Times report said.
It said funds poured into Wootton Cricket from companies and individuals.
“Pakistan forbids foreign nationals and companies from funding political parties, but Abraaj’s 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.
The Election Commission of Pakistan has been probing the funding of PTI for several years. Imran 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.
In July 2017, Pakistan Supreme Court removed Nawaz Sharif from office over corruption allegations. Khan won the election in July 2018 and the report said that as prime minister he became increasingly critical of the west, praising Afghanistan’s Taliban when US forces withdrew in 2021, and visiting Vladimir Putin in Moscow on the day Russian forces invaded Ukraine in February.
Financial Times report said that in January, the Election Commission of Pakistan’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 Financial Times report said.
It said K-Electric was Abraaj’s single largest investment but as the private equity firm ran into financial difficulties in 2016, Naqvi struck a deal to sell control of the power company to Chinese state-controlled Shanghai Electric Power for USD 1.77bn.
“Political approval for the deal in Pakistan was important and Naqvi lobbied the governments of both Sharif and Khan for backing. In 2016, he authorised a $20mn payment for Pakistan politicians to gain their support, according to US public prosecutors who later charged him with fraud, theft and attempted bribery.
“The payment was allegedly intended for Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shehbaz, who replaced Khan as prime minister in April. The brothers have denied any knowledge of the matter. In January 2017, Naqvi hosted a dinner for Nawaz Sharif at Davos. After Khan became prime minister, Naqvi met him. While in office Khan criticised officials for delaying the sale of K-Electric but the deal has still not been completed,” the report said.
It said Imran Khan visited Wootton Place in 2012. In a written response to questions from the British newspaper, the former cricketer said he had gone to “a fundraising event which was attended by many PTI supporters”.