Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan was sentenced to 14 years in prison on January 31, 2024 in a corruption case related to government gifts known as the Toshakhana case. This marks Khan’s third conviction as he faces a series of charges brought by the current government led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.
Background on the Toshakhana Case
The Toshakhana is a department under the administrative control of the Cabinet Division that stores precious gifts given to government officials by heads of other governments and states and foreign dignitaries.
As per Pakistani law, any gifts received from foreign dignitaries need to be reported and deposited in the Toshakhana. The objective behind the Toshakhana is to maintain transparency and avoid any undue influence by countries giving lavish gifts to Pakistani government officials.
According to Pakistan’s election commission, Khan illegally sold state gifts worth over Rs 140 million that he had received during official visits abroad during his tenure as Prime Minister.
Instead of depositing these gifts in the Toshakhana, Khan retained them in his own possession and later sold them in Dubai in 2022 through two of his aides. The gifts included expensive watches, rings, and chains.
This was in clear violation of Pakistani law regarding disclosure and disposal of Toshakhana gifts.
A reference was filed against Khan over this matter by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in August 2022. The ECP disqualified Khan from holding public office for 5 years over this case in October 2022.
Details of Khan’s Latest 14-Year Sentence
On January 31st, an Islamabad district and sessions court sentenced Imran Khan to 14 years in prison after finding him guilty in the Toshakhana reference case.
The court also sentenced Khan’s wife, Bushra Bibi, to 10 years in jail for abetment in the case.
In addition, the court imposed a fine of Rs 40 million on Khan and Rs 30 million on Bibi, ordering them to pay the fines within six months. In case of non-payment, their sentences would be extended accordingly.
Khan’s lawyer argued that the Toshakhana law did not apply to the former Prime Minister. However, the judge rejected this defense and said Khan corruptly used his official position as Prime Minister to gain material benefits.
Khan was convicted under sections 409 (criminal breach of trust), 420 (cheating), and 201 (causing disappearance of evidence) of the Pakistan Penal Code.
Reactions to the Verdict
The verdict drew swift reactions from Khan’s supporters as well as domestic and international observers concerned about Pakistan’s political stability and democracy.
Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party termed the convictions politically motivated and said it would challenge them. PTI leaders allege that the cases against Khan are an effort by the current government to sideline him from politics and derail the upcoming general elections expected in October 2023.
Human Rights Watch said the sentence raises concerns about politically motivated use of Pakistan’s justice system to target opposition leaders.
The U.S. State Department also noted that accountability for corruption in politics should not become politicized. Observers worry the conviction could spark unrest among Khan’s large support base ahead of national elections.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s ruling coalition hailed the verdict as a victory for Pakistan’s anti-corruption efforts. Analysts however argue that corruption remains widespread in Pakistan’s political elite.
Khan Also Sentenced to Prison in Two Other Cases
This marks the third criminal conviction for the former cricket star turned Prime Minister, who served from 2018 until his ouster in a no-confidence vote in April 2022.
Last week on January 30th, Khan received a 10-year prison sentence in a case related to publishing official secrets. An Islamabad district and sessions court found Khan guilty of unlawfully disclosing classified information to the media in 2022 when he was still Prime Minister.
The case, known as the ‘cypher case’, relates to a diplomatic cipher Khan claimed contained evidence of a foreign plot to remove him. The court ruled that publicly touting details of the cipher breached the Official Secrets Act of Pakistan.
In addition, in December 2022 Khan received a 3-year prison sentence and was disqualified from holding public office for 5 years in connection with illegal funding for his political party PTI.
The cumulative impact of Khan’s convictions has cast doubt over his political future even as his party remains popular across Pakistan. PTI continues to organize mass rallies demanding early elections, arguing Khan’s removal was unconstitutional.
What’s Next for Imran Khan?
Legal experts expect Khan will challenge these verdicts before higher courts, a process that could take years to complete.
In the meantime, there is uncertainty around whether he can continue leading his political party or stand as a candidate in the upcoming 2023 elections given the convictions. Some analysts believe fresh elections could end the current political instability if held in a free and transparent manner.
The Sharif government insists it remains committed to holding elections on time later this year after economic reforms are completed. However, critics allege the government wants to cling to power rather than face voters with Khan at the helm of a united opposition.
With Khan likely unable to contest the elections himself due to being disqualified, there is speculation that PTI could put forward his wife Bushra Bibi as its prime ministerial candidate instead.
Khan remains a hugely popular figure among Pakistani youth and middle classes despite the convictions. His enduring appeal stems from his aggressive anti-corruption rhetoric and promises to reform Pakistan’s chronically mismanaged economy. PTI continues to lead nationwide opinion surveys on voting intentions.
If PTI secures victory in the 2023 elections, political analysts predict the party will prioritize overturning Khan’s convictions to enable his return as Prime Minister for a second term. Until then, Khan’s incarceration could fuel unrest among his supporters accusing the government of orchestrating a political witch hunt.
Pakistan’s powerful military is also monitoring events given its influence over domestic politics. The military’s stance on the convictions and elections will be pivotal in determining how Pakistan’s turbulent political saga plays out in 2023.
Timeline of Key Events
|Pakistan’s election commission files disqualification reference against Khan over Toshakhana gifts case
|Khan disqualified from politics for 5 years in Toshakhana case verdict
|Khan sentenced to 3 years in prison over PTI illegal funding
|Supreme Court overturns Khan’s disqualification in Toshakhana case
|January 30, 2024
|10-year sentence for Khan in ‘cypher case’ over breaching Official Secrets Act
|January 31, 2024
|14-year sentence for Khan, 10 years for his wife in Toshakhana gifts corruption case
This covers the key events leading up to and following Khan’s various convictions. His appeals against these verdicts are likely to span months if not years in Pakistan’s overburdened courts.
The timeline underlines how Khan has become embroiled in successive legal battles ever since being removed as Prime Minister in April 2022. Despite his recent convictions, he continues leading opposition protests demanding fresh elections even as his own candidacy remains uncertain.
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