Pakistan’s Imran Khan disqualified from politics over Toshakhana case

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ISLAMABAD — Former Pakistani leader Imran Khan has been disqualified from holding public office — at least in the near future — after a ruling from Pakistan’s Election Commission on Friday charged him with unlawfully selling state gifts, according to senior members of his party.

Khan was found to have “made false statements” and to have committed “corrupt practices,” according to a copy of the commission’s ruling seen by The Washington Post.

Khan has denied any wrongdoing. Speaking in a television address after the ruling, he said he would wage “a jihad against this mafia” that brought the case against him. “I want to make a promise before all my people that I will continue to fight against these thieves, as long as I am alive,” he said.

The case represents just the latest in a number of charges against the former prime minister by the government in an attempt to prevent Khan from running again after his ouster earlier this year.

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The items Khan was accused of selling, included diamond jewelry and watches, were worth over 140 million Pakistani rupees, just over $630,000, according to Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. Traditionally, they would be stored in Pakistan’s Toshkhana, the department that safeguards state gifts.

Khan’s legal team plans to appeal Friday’s verdict at Islamabad’s High Court, lawyer Faisal Chaudhry told The Post.

“This decision can’t withstand in any court, and it will be thrown out in no time,” he said. “The case filed against Imran Khan can’t prove he is not truthful and not trustworthy.”

Protests erupted after Friday’s verdict, with hundreds of Khan supporters blocking one of the main highways into Islamabad, chanting “Long live Imran Khan” and “Down with the Election Commission.” Pakistani police responded with volleys of tear gas.

Similar protests erupted elsewhere, with Khan supporters blocking roads or burning tires in major cities including Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi and Peshawar.

At a news conference Friday, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah called the protests “unacceptable” and said local police chiefs had been ordered to “take action” against the Khan supporters. “We will not tolerate this,” Sanaullah said. “I warn Imran Khan and his supporters not to create a law-and-order situation. Otherwise, strict action will taken against them.”

The interior minister also said that any appeal by Khan’s legal team would be contested, as would any future bid for office. “We will go to every court at any level to punish this corrupt person,” he said. “We are not afraid of Khan’s so-called popularity, and we will fight him in field of politics, too.”

Sanaullah pledged to “shatter the myth of Khan’s so-called popularity.”

In his address, Khan called for an end to the protests but pledged to hold “the biggest protest ever in the country’s history” later this month. Tens of thousands of his supporters from throughout the country are expected to march on the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. The government has repeatedly said such a demonstration would be illegal.

Khan was ousted from power by Parliament earlier this year amid a spiraling economic crisis in Pakistan. He blamed a foreign plot for his removal and in the months that followed held large, boisterous rallies slamming the government.

The rhetoric appears to have boosted his public support ahead of expected national elections next year. But it also triggered several legal filings against him, including a charge under the country’s terrorism act that was dismissed after a months-long legal battle.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari applauded Friday’s ruling against Khan in a tweet, saying the former leader had been “caught red handed” after spreading “lies about alleged corruption of his political opponents.”

Zardari was referring to remarks made by Khan accusing members of the government of receiving kickbacks and plundering the national treasury.

Under Sharif, the country’s economic crisis has worsened. Pakistan has also been hit by epic flooding that displaced tens of millions of people and is expected to increase unrest and further cripple the impoverished country’s economy.

At the same time, Sharif has moved to improve Pakistan’s ties with the West, especially the United States.

Also Friday, it was announced that Pakistan had been removed from the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force’s “gray list,” a watchlist for terrorism funding and money laundering. Pakistan had been on the list since 2018, which made it more difficult to attract foreign business and investment.

Sharif applauded the decision in a tweet, calling it “a vindication of our determined and sustained efforts.”

“I would like to congratulate our civil & military leadership as well as all institutions whose hard work led to today’s success,” he said.

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