The extraordinary case of the cricket fit that helped fund Imran Khan’s political upward push

At the peak of his luck, the Pakistani magnate Arif Naqvi invited cricket famous person Imran Khan and masses of bankers, legal professionals and traders to his walled nation property within the Oxfordshire village of Wootton for weekends of game and ingesting. The host used to be the founding father of the Dubai-based Abraaj Group, then one of the crucial biggest personal fairness corporations running in rising markets, with billions of bucks beneath control.

At the “Wootton T20 Cup”, over which Naqvi presided from 2010 to 2012, the primary tournament used to be 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 place of dwelling. Veteran cricket commentator Henry Blofeld attended along side knowledgeable umpires and picture crews.

“You can choose to play in order to impress or make a fool of yourself, or alternatively just to be an innocent bystander,” Naqvi wrote in a call for participation to the development. The visitors have been requested to pay between £2,000 and £2,500 every to wait, with the cash going to unspecified “philanthropic causes”, Naqvi stated.

It is the kind of charity fundraiser repeated up and down the United Kingdom each summer time. What makes it ordinary is that without equal benefactor used to be a political birthday party in Pakistan. The charges have been paid to Wootton Cricket Ltd, which, regardless of the title, used to be in truth a Cayman Islands-incorporated corporate owned via Naqvi and the cash used to be getting used to bankroll Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Khan’s political birthday party. Funds poured into Wootton Cricket from firms and people, together with a minimum of £2mn from a United Arab Emirates executive minister who may be a member of the Abu Dhabi royal circle of relatives.

Pakistan forbids overseas nationals and corporations from investment political events, however Abraaj emails and interior paperwork observed via the Financial Times, together with a financial institution remark masking the duration between February 28 and May 30 2013 for a Wootton Cricket account within the UAE, display that each firms and overseas nationals in addition to electorate of Pakistan despatched hundreds of thousands of bucks to Wootton Cricket — ahead of cash used to be transferred from the account to Pakistan for the PTI.

The investment of the birthday party is on the centre of a years-long investigation via the Election Commission of Pakistan, an inquiry that has taken on even better significance as Khan — who misplaced administrative center in April — plots a political comeback.

Arif Naqvi surrounded via gamers all over the Wootton T20 Cricket Cup tournament at his Oxfordshire space

But again in 2013, Khan — a World Cup-winning cricket captain — used to be using a wave of widespread make stronger and campaigning to upend Pakistan’s politics on an anti-corruption price tag. He introduced himself to the voters as a democratic reformer — born in Pakistan and with revel in of dwelling within the west — who may damage the dangle of the political circle of relatives dynasties that had ruled the rustic for many years.

Although Khan misplaced the 2013 overall election to longtime rival Nawaz Sharif, his birthday party was the 3rd biggest within the National Assembly. Naqvi’s famous person used to be additionally emerging. His personal fairness company used to be increasing and profitable new traders. He was a normal fixture at World Economic Forum conferences in Davos.

In July 2017, Pakistan’s Supreme Court got rid of Sharif from administrative center over corruption allegations. Khan gained the election in July 2018. As top minister he was increasingly more essential of the west, praising Afghanistan’s Taliban when US forces withdrew in 2021, and visiting Vladimir Putin in Moscow at the day Russian forces invaded Ukraine in February.

The Election Commission of Pakistan has been investigating the investment of the PTI for greater than seven years. In January, the ECP’s scrutiny committee issued a damning file wherein it stated the PTI gained investment from overseas nationals and corporations and accused it of under-reporting budget and concealing dozens of financial institution accounts. Wootton Cricket used to be named within the file, however Naqvi wasn’t recognized as its proprietor.

In April, Khan stood down after shedding a parliamentary vote of no self belief, caused partly via emerging inflation. He has accused america of orchestrating the vote and is now making an attempt to degree a political go back to contest a overall election because of happen via October 2023.

Imran Khan reaches out to touch the hands of supporters
Imran Khan campaigning in Karachi in 2013. Although he misplaced that overall election, his PTI was the 3rd biggest birthday party in Pakistan’s National Assembly © Athar Hussain/Reuters

That re-election effort implies that even though the Naqvi investment happened nearly a decade in the past, the debate round it, and the general findings of the election fee, usually are at the vanguard of Pakistan politics for a while.

While it has in the past been reported that Naqvi funded Khan’s birthday party, without equal supply of the cash hasn’t ever ahead of been disclosed. Wootton Cricket’s financial institution remark displays it gained $1.3mn on March 14 2013 from Abraaj Investment Management Ltd, the fund control unit of Naqvi’s personal fairness company, boosting the account’s earlier steadiness of $5,431. Later the similar day, $1.3mn used to be transferred from the account immediately to a PTI checking account in Pakistan. Abraaj expensed the price to a keeping corporate during which it managed Ok-Electric, the ability supplier to Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest town.

An additional $2mn flowed into the Wootton Cricket account in April 2013 from Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak al-Nahyan, a member of Abu Dhabi’s royal circle of relatives, executive minister and chair of Pakistan’s Bank Alfalah, in keeping with the financial institution remark and a duplicate of the Swift switch main points.

Naqvi then exchanged emails with a colleague about moving $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 government chargeable for managing money go with the flow, wrote in an e-mail to Naqvi that the transfers have 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 budget to the PTI by way of Wootton Cricket’s checking account © Nadeem Soomro/Reuters

“Like other populists, Khan is made of Teflon,” says Uzair Younus, director of the Pakistan initiative on the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based analysis staff. “But his opponents will try to use the foreign funding controversy to weaken the argument that he is not corrupt,” he provides, and to inspire the election fee to “punish him and his party”.

An invaluable best friend

Naqvi, 62, used to be born right into a Karachi industry circle of relatives. After finding out on the London School of Economics he spent the Nineties operating in Saudi Arabia and Dubai and began Abraaj in 2002, construction it into an funding powerhouse. With workplaces in Dubai, London, New York and throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America, the corporate raised billions of bucks from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, america management of Barack Obama, the British and French governments and different traders.

Well-connected, Naqvi favored to provoke. John Kerry — a speaker at one Abraaj tournament — used to be approached via the corporate about operating with it after he served as US secretary of state. Naqvi met Britain’s Prince Charles and used to be lively in one in all his charities, the British Asian Trust. He used to be a board member of the UN Global Compact, which advises the UN secretary-general, and sat along former Nissan chair Carlos Ghosn at the board of the Interpol Foundation, which raises budget for the worldwide police organisation.

In Washington he used to be observed as an invaluable best friend. The Obama management pledged $150mn to an Abraaj fund making an investment in Middle Eastern firms: a press free up stated that the partnership would lend a hand flip america president’s promise to fortify financial family members with Islamic countries right into a fact. Some even noticed him as a imaginable long term political chief in Pakistan, which he as soon as described as “a country not known for transparency”, ahead of including that Abraaj “did everything by the book” all over its regulate of Ok-Electric.

“We avoided every single point where you would have had to come into contact with government — even though you were a utility — and have to pay someone something,” 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 administrative center, The personal fairness company, based via Arif in 2002, additionally had workplaces in Dubai, London and throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America © Angel Franco/New York Times/Redux/eyevine

Ok-Electric used to be Abraaj’s unmarried biggest funding. But as the non-public fairness company bumped into monetary difficulties in 2016, Naqvi struck a deal to promote regulate of the ability corporate to Chinese state-controlled Shanghai Electric Power for $1.77bn. Political popularity of the deal in Pakistan used to be essential and Naqvi lobbied the governments of each Sharif and Khan for backing. In 2016, he accredited a $20mn fee for Pakistan politicians to achieve their make stronger, in keeping with US public prosecutors who later charged him with fraud, robbery and tried bribery.

The fee used to be allegedly meant for Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shehbaz, who changed Khan as top minister in April. The brothers have denied any wisdom of the topic. In January 2017, Naqvi hosted a dinner for Nawaz Sharif at Davos. After Khan was top minister, Naqvi met him. While in administrative center Khan criticised officers for delaying the sale of Ok-Electric however the deal has nonetheless no longer been finished.

Abraaj collapsed in 2018 after traders together with the Gates Foundation began investigating whether or not the corporate used to be misusing cash in a fund meant to shop for and construct hospitals throughout Africa and Asia. Abraaj stated it used to be 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 accountable. Naqvi denies the fees.

Naqvi used to be arrested at London’s Heathrow airport in April 2019 after coming back from Pakistan and faces as much as 291 years in prison if discovered accountable of america fees. Khan’s phone quantity used to be integrated on an inventory of contacts he passed to police — a reality discussed via legal professionals representing america executive all over Naqvi’s extradition trial in London.

His attraction in opposition to extradition to america is predicted to conclude later this 12 months. But he has needed to pay £15mn for bail and has hefty ongoing criminal bills. Wootton Place used to be offered to a hedge fund supervisor in 2020 for £12.25mn. Naqvi and his legal professional didn’t reply to requests for remark in this tale.

Moving cash round

In 2012 Khan visited Wootton Place. In a written reaction to questions from the FT, the previous cricketer stated he had long gone to “a fundraising event which was attended by many PTI supporters”. Blofeld, the cricket commentator, recollects that Khan “was persuaded to take the field” at Wootton. “It was extraordinary to see how he still had the knack of bowling those fast inswingers,” he says.

Naqvi, a self-described cricket purist, equipped the bats, balls, osteopaths, masseurs, meals, lodging and clothes. He actually wrote the foundations for the suits. Ball tampering — banned in cricket — used to be authorized in suits at Wootton as a result of “it is important to encourage innovation and experimentation in cricket, as what is considered illegal today may be de rigueur tomorrow,” Naqvi as soon as wrote to visitors.

It used to be a essential time for Khan to collect budget forward of the election scheduled for May 2013, and Naqvi labored intently with different Pakistani businessmen to lift cash for his marketing campaign. The biggest access in Wootton Cricket’s checking account within the months ahead of the election used to be the $2mn from Sheikh Nahyan, now the UAE’s minister for tolerance. He may be an investor in Pakistan.

Imran Khan bowling
Video clutch of Imran Khan in 2012 bowling on the Wootton T20 Cricket Cup tournament at Arif Naqvi’s space in Oxfordshire

After Lakhani, the Abraaj government chargeable for money go with the flow, instructed Naqvi in an e-mail that the sheikh’s cash had arrived, Naqvi spoke back that he will have to ship “1.2 million to PTI”. In some other e-mail to Lakhani after the sheikh’s cash entered the Wootton Cricket account Naqvi wrote: “do not tell anyone where funds are coming from, ie who is contributing”.

“Sure sir,” Lakhani answered. He wrote that he would switch $1.2mn from Wootton Cricket to the PTI’s account in Pakistan. Then after making an allowance for sending the budget to the PTI by way of Naqvi’s private account, Lakhani proposed sending the cash in two instalments to a non-public account for businessman Tariq Shafi in Karachi and an account for an entity referred to as the Insaf Trust in Lahore. Although the possession of the Insaf Trust is unclear, the emails state that the general vacation spot used to be the PTI. “Don’t eff this up rafiq,” Naqvi wrote in some other e-mail.

On May 6 2013, Wootton Cricket transferred a complete of $1.2mn to Shafi and the Insaf Trust. Lakhani wrote in an e-mail to Naqvi that the transfers have been for the PTI. Khan showed that Shafi donated to the PTI. “It is for Tariq Shafi to answer as to from where he received this money,” Khan stated in accordance with the FT. Shafi didn’t reply to requests for remark.

‘Prohibited funding took place’

The ECP investigation into the investment of Khan’s birthday party used to be caused when Akbar S Babar, who helped identify the PTI, filed a grievance in December 2014. Although 1000’s of Pakistanis international despatched cash for the PTI, Babar insists that “prohibited funding took place”.

In his written reaction, Khan stated that neither he nor his birthday party used to be conscious about Abraaj offering $1.3mn thru Wootton Cricket. He additionally stated he used to be “not aware” of the PTI receiving any budget that originated from Sheikh Nahyan. “Arif Naqvi has given a statement which was filed before the Election Commission also, not denied by anyone, that the money came from donations during a cricket match and the money as collected by him was sent through his company Wootton Cricket,” Khan wrote.

Khan stated he used to be looking forward to the decision of the election fee’s investigation. “It will not be appropriate to prejudge PTI.”

In its January file, the election fee stated Wootton Cricket had transferred $2.12mn to the PTI however didn’t expose the unique supply of the cash. Naqvi has said his possession of Wootton Cricket and denied any wrongdoing. In a remark, he instructed the election fee that: “I have not collected any fund from any person of non-Pakistani origin, company [public or private] or any other prohibited source.”

Imran Khan, who stood down as top minister in April after shedding a parliamentary vote of no self belief, is making an attempt a political comeback © Farooq Naeem/AFP/Getty Images

The financial institution remark for Wootton Cricket tells a unique tale. It displays that Naqvi transferred 3 instalments immediately to the PTI in 2013 including as much as a complete of $2.12mn. The biggest used to be the $1.3mn from Abraaj which corporate paperwork display used to be transferred to Wootton Cricket however charged to its keeping corporate for Ok-Electric.

The affect 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 essential victory in by-elections in Punjab, Pakistan’s maximum populous province. On Twitter, he referred to as the Election Commission of Pakistan “totally biased”.

At the similar time top minister Shehbaz Sharif has recommended the fee to put up its verdict within the PTI case, pronouncing that the delays led to via political infighting had given Khan “a free pass despite his repeated & shameless attacks on state institutions”.

Yet the Atlantic Council’s Younus says that Khan’s dependable supporters gained’t be moved regardless of the consequence. They “do not and will not care. In fact, Khan may claim that the story is further evidence that foreign powers are leveraging global media to conspire against him.”

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

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

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