The unusual case of the cricket match that helped fund Imran Khan’s political rise

On the top of his success, the Pakistani tycoon Arif Naqvi invited cricket celebrity Imran Khan and a whole bunch of bankers, legal professionals and buyers to his walled nation property within the Oxfordshire village of Wootton for weekends of sport and ingesting. The host was the founding father of the Dubai-based Abraaj Group, then one of many largest personal fairness corporations working in rising markets, with billions of {dollars} underneath administration.

On the “Wootton T20 Cup”, over which Naqvi presided from 2010 to 2012, the primary occasion was a cricket event between groups with invented names: the Peshawar Perverts or the Faisalabad Fothermuckers. They performed on an immaculate pitch amid 14 acres of formal gardens and parkland at Wootton Place, Naqvi’s Seventeenth-century residence. Veteran cricket commentator Henry Blofeld attended together with professional umpires and movie crews.

“You’ll be able to select to play with the intention to impress or make a idiot of your self, or alternatively simply to be an harmless bystander,” Naqvi wrote in an invite to the occasion. The friends had been requested to pay between £2,000 and £2,500 every to attend, with the cash going to unspecified “philanthropic causes”, Naqvi stated.

It’s the kind of charity fundraiser repeated up and down the UK each summer season. What makes it uncommon is that the last word benefactor was a political get together in Pakistan. The charges had been paid to Wootton Cricket Ltd, which, regardless of the identify, was actually a Cayman Islands-incorporated firm owned by Naqvi and the cash was getting used to bankroll Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Khan’s political get together. Funds poured into Wootton Cricket from corporations and people, together with at the very least £2mn from a United Arab Emirates authorities minister who can also be a member of the Abu Dhabi royal household.

Pakistan forbids overseas nationals and firms from funding political events, however Abraaj emails and inside paperwork seen by the Monetary Instances, together with a financial institution assertion masking the interval between February 28 and Could 30 2013 for a Wootton Cricket account within the UAE, present that each corporations and overseas nationals in addition to residents of Pakistan despatched hundreds of thousands of {dollars} to Wootton Cricket — earlier than cash was transferred from the account to Pakistan for the PTI.

The funding of the get together is on the centre of a years-long investigation by the Election Fee of Pakistan, an inquiry that has taken on even larger significance as Khan — who misplaced workplace in April — plots a political comeback.

A smiling Arif Naqvi surrounded by players during the Wootton T20 Cricket Cup event at his Oxfordshire house
Arif Naqvi surrounded by gamers through the Wootton T20 Cricket Cup occasion at his Oxfordshire home

However again in 2013, Khan — a World Cup-winning cricket captain — was using a wave of well-liked assist and campaigning to upend Pakistan’s politics on an anti-corruption ticket. He introduced himself to the citizens as a democratic reformer — born in Pakistan and with expertise of residing within the west — who may break the maintain of the political household dynasties that had dominated the nation for many years.

Though Khan misplaced the 2013 normal election to longtime rival Nawaz Sharif, his get together turned the third largest within the Nationwide Meeting. Naqvi’s star was additionally rising. His personal fairness agency was increasing and successful new buyers. He turned a daily fixture at World Financial Discussion board conferences in Davos.

In July 2017, Pakistan’s Supreme Court docket eliminated Sharif from workplace over corruption allegations. Khan gained the election in July 2018. As prime minister he turned more and more crucial 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.

The Election Fee of Pakistan has been investigating the funding of the PTI for greater than seven years. In January, the ECP’s scrutiny committee issued a damning report wherein it stated the PTI obtained funding from overseas nationals and firms and accused it of under-reporting funds and concealing dozens of financial institution accounts. Wootton Cricket was named within the report, however Naqvi wasn’t recognized as its proprietor.

In April, Khan stood down after dropping a parliamentary vote of no confidence, triggered partially by rising inflation. He has accused the US of orchestrating the vote and is now making an attempt to stage a political return to contest a normal election as a result of happen by October 2023.

Imran Khan reaches out to touch the hands of supporters
Imran Khan campaigning in Karachi in 2013. Though he misplaced that normal election, his PTI turned the third largest get together in Pakistan’s Nationwide Meeting © Athar Hussain/Reuters

That re-election effort implies that though the Naqvi funding occurred nearly a decade in the past, the controversy round it, and the ultimate findings of the election fee, are prone to be on the forefront of Pakistan politics for a while.

Whereas it has beforehand been reported that Naqvi funded Khan’s get together, the last word supply of the cash has by no means earlier than been disclosed. Wootton Cricket’s financial institution assertion exhibits it obtained $1.3mn on March 14 2013 from Abraaj Funding Administration Ltd, the fund administration unit of Naqvi’s personal fairness agency, boosting the account’s earlier steadiness of $5,431. Later the identical day, $1.3mn was transferred from the account on to a PTI checking account in Pakistan. Abraaj expensed the associated fee to a holding firm via which it managed Okay-Electrical, the facility supplier to Karachi, Pakistan’s largest metropolis.

An extra $2mn flowed into the Wootton Cricket account in April 2013 from Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak al-Nahyan, a member of Abu Dhabi’s royal household, authorities minister and chair of Pakistan’s Financial institution Alfalah, in accordance with the financial institution assertion and a replica of the Swift switch particulars.

Naqvi then exchanged emails with a colleague about transferring $1.2mn extra to the PTI. Six days after the $2mn arrived within the Wootton Cricket checking account, Naqvi transferred $1.2mn from it to Pakistan in two instalments. Rafique Lakhani, the senior Abraaj govt answerable for managing money stream, wrote in an e mail to Naqvi that the transfers had been meant for the PTI. Sheikh Nahyan didn’t reply to requests for remark.

Arif Ali Zardari, left, talks to Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak al-Nahyan who is hold flowers
Abu Dhabi royal Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak al-Nahyan, proper, talks to then Pakistan president Arif Ali Zardari in 2012. Nahyan channelled funds to the PTI through Wootton Cricket’s checking account © Nadeem Soomro/Reuters

“Like different populists, Khan is fabricated from Teflon,” says Uzair Younus, director of the Pakistan initiative on the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based analysis group. “However his opponents will attempt to use the overseas funding controversy to weaken the argument that he’s not corrupt,” he provides, and to encourage the election fee to “punish him and his get together”.

A helpful ally

Naqvi, 62, was born right into a Karachi enterprise household. After learning on the London Faculty of Economics he spent the Nineteen Nineties working in Saudi Arabia and Dubai and began Abraaj in 2002, constructing it into an funding powerhouse. With workplaces in Dubai, London, New York and throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America, the corporate raised billions of {dollars} from the Invoice & Melinda Gates Basis, the US administration of Barack Obama, the British and French governments and different buyers.

Properly-connected, Naqvi favored to impress. John Kerry — a speaker at one Abraaj occasion — was approached by the corporate about working with it after he served as US secretary of state. Naqvi met Britain’s Prince Charles and was energetic in one in all his charities, the British Asian Belief. He was a board member of the UN World Compact, which advises the UN secretary-general, and sat alongside former Nissan chair Carlos Ghosn on the board of the Interpol Basis, which raises funds for the worldwide police organisation.

In Washington he was seen as a helpful ally. The Obama administration pledged $150mn to an Abraaj fund investing in Center Japanese corporations: a press launch stated that the partnership would assist flip the US president’s promise to enhance financial relations with Islamic nations right into a actuality. Some even noticed him as a doable future political chief in Pakistan, which he as soon as described as “a rustic not identified for transparency”, earlier than including that Abraaj “did the whole lot by the ebook” throughout its management of Okay-Electrical.

“We prevented each single level the place you’d have needed to come into contact with authorities — regardless that you had been a utility — and must pay somebody one thing,” he stated.

Arif Naqvi sits in Abraaj Group’s office in New York, with views of skyscrapers through the window
Arif Naqvi, pictured at Abraaj’s New York workplace, The personal fairness agency, based by Arif in 2002, additionally had workplaces in Dubai, London and throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America © Angel Franco/New York Instances/Redux/eyevine

Okay-Electrical was Abraaj’s single largest funding. However because the personal fairness agency bumped into monetary difficulties in 2016, Naqvi struck a deal to promote management of the facility firm to Chinese language state-controlled Shanghai Electrical Energy for $1.77bn. Political approval for the deal in Pakistan was vital and Naqvi lobbied the governments of each Sharif and Khan for backing. In 2016, he authorised a $20mn cost for Pakistan politicians to realize their assist, in accordance with US public prosecutors who later charged him with fraud, theft and tried bribery.

The cost was allegedly meant for Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shehbaz, who changed Khan as prime minister in April. The brothers have denied any data of the matter. In January 2017, Naqvi hosted a dinner for Nawaz Sharif at Davos. After Khan turned prime minister, Naqvi met him. Whereas in workplace Khan criticised officers for delaying the sale of Okay-Electrical however the deal has nonetheless not been accomplished.

Abraaj collapsed in 2018 after buyers together with the Gates Basis began investigating whether or not the corporate was misusing cash in a fund meant to purchase and construct hospitals throughout Africa and Asia. Abraaj stated it was managing property of about $14bn on the time. In 2019, US prosecutors indicted Naqvi and 5 of his former colleagues. Two former Abraaj executives have since pleaded responsible. Naqvi denies the costs.

Naqvi was arrested at London’s Heathrow airport in April 2019 after coming back from Pakistan and faces as much as 291 years in jail if discovered responsible of the US expenses. Khan’s phone quantity was included on a listing of contacts he handed to police — a reality talked about by legal professionals representing the US authorities throughout Naqvi’s extradition trial in London.

His attraction towards extradition to the US is anticipated to conclude later this yr. However he has needed to pay £15mn for bail and has hefty ongoing authorized bills. Wootton Place was offered to a hedge fund supervisor in 2020 for £12.25mn. Naqvi and his lawyer didn’t reply to requests for touch upon this story.

Shifting cash round

In 2012 Khan visited Wootton Place. In a written response to questions from the FT, the previous cricketer stated he had gone to “a fundraising occasion which was attended by many PTI supporters”. Blofeld, the cricket commentator, recollects that Khan “was persuaded to take the sector” at Wootton. “It was extraordinary to see how he nonetheless had the knack of bowling these quick inswingers,” he says.

Naqvi, a self-described cricket purist, offered the bats, balls, osteopaths, masseurs, meals, lodging and clothes. He actually wrote the principles for the matches. Ball tampering — banned in cricket — was permitted in matches at Wootton as a result of “you will need to encourage innovation and experimentation in cricket, as what is taken into account unlawful at present could also be de rigueur tomorrow,” Naqvi as soon as wrote to friends.

It was a crucial time for Khan to collect funds forward of the election scheduled for Could 2013, and Naqvi labored carefully with different Pakistani businessmen to lift cash for his marketing campaign. The most important entry in Wootton Cricket’s checking account within the months earlier than the election was the $2mn from Sheikh Nahyan, now the UAE’s minister for tolerance. He’s additionally an investor in Pakistan.

Imran Khan bowling
Video seize of Imran Khan in 2012 bowling on the Wootton T20 Cricket Cup occasion at Arif Naqvi’s home in Oxfordshire

After Lakhani, the Abraaj govt answerable for money stream, advised Naqvi in an e mail that the sheikh’s cash had arrived, Naqvi replied that he ought to ship “1.2 million to PTI”. In one other e mail to Lakhani after the sheikh’s cash entered the Wootton Cricket account Naqvi wrote: “don’t inform anybody the place funds are coming from, ie who’s contributing”.

“Certain sir,” Lakhani responded. He wrote that he would switch $1.2mn from Wootton Cricket to the PTI’s account in Pakistan. Then after contemplating sending the funds to the PTI through Naqvi’s private account, Lakhani proposed sending the cash in two instalments to a private account for businessman Tariq Shafi in Karachi and an account for an entity known as the Insaf Belief in Lahore. Though the possession of the Insaf Belief is unclear, the emails state that the ultimate vacation spot was the PTI. “Don’t eff this up rafiq,” Naqvi wrote in one other e mail.

On Could 6 2013, Wootton Cricket transferred a complete of $1.2mn to Shafi and the Insaf Belief. Lakhani wrote in an e mail to Naqvi that the transfers had been for the PTI. Khan confirmed that Shafi donated to the PTI. “It’s for Tariq Shafi to reply as to from the place he obtained this cash,” Khan stated in response to the FT. Shafi didn’t reply to requests for remark.

‘Prohibited funding occurred’

The ECP investigation into the funding of Khan’s get together was triggered when Akbar S Babar, who helped set up the PTI, filed a criticism in December 2014. Though 1000’s of Pakistanis worldwide despatched cash for the PTI, Babar insists that “prohibited funding occurred”.

In his written response, Khan stated that neither he nor his get together was conscious of Abraaj offering $1.3mn via Wootton Cricket. He additionally stated he was “not conscious” of the PTI receiving any funds that originated from Sheikh Nahyan. “Arif Naqvi has given a press release which was filed earlier than the Election Fee additionally, not denied by anybody, that the cash got here from donations throughout a cricket match and the cash as collected by him was despatched via his firm Wootton Cricket,” Khan wrote.

Khan stated he was ready for the decision of the election fee’s investigation. “It is not going to be acceptable to prejudge PTI.”

In its January report, the election fee stated Wootton Cricket had transferred $2.12mn to the PTI however didn’t reveal the unique supply of the cash. Naqvi has acknowledged his possession of Wootton Cricket and denied any wrongdoing. In a press release, he advised the election fee that: “I’ve not collected any fund from any particular person of non-Pakistani origin, firm [public or private] or another prohibited supply.”

Imran Khan, who stood down as prime minister in April after dropping a parliamentary vote of no confidence, is making an attempt a political comeback © Farooq Naeem/AFP/Getty Photos

The financial institution assertion for Wootton Cricket tells a unique story. It exhibits that Naqvi transferred three instalments on to the PTI in 2013 including as much as a complete of $2.12mn. The most important was the $1.3mn from Abraaj which firm paperwork present was transferred to Wootton Cricket however charged to its holding firm for Okay-Electrical.

The impression of the scandal may but hit Khan’s re-election ambitions. In July he renewed his name for an early ballot after the PTI gained a crucial victory in by-elections in Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province. On Twitter, he known as the Election Fee of Pakistan “completely biased”.

On the identical time prime minister Shehbaz Sharif has urged the fee to publish its verdict within the PTI case, saying that the delays attributable to political infighting had given Khan “a free go regardless of his repeated & shameless assaults on state establishments”.

But the Atlantic Council’s Younus says that Khan’s loyal supporters gained’t be moved regardless of the end result. They “don’t and won’t care. Actually, Khan could declare that the story is additional proof that overseas powers are leveraging world media to conspire towards him.”

For Babar, who helped discovered the PTI, the controversy is proof that Khan has fallen wanting the beliefs they got down to champion in politics. “He had the chance of a lifetime and he blew it,” Babar says. “Our trigger was reform, change — introduce the values in our politics that we espoused publicly.”

As a substitute, he says, “[Khan’s] morality compass in a political sense went haywire”.

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