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Photo illustration by John Lyman

Pakistan has long contended with corruption and while holding Imran Khan to account might result in violence, accountability is more crucial.

This short piece documents the corruption of Imran Khan, Pakistan’s former prime minister, highlighting his misappropriation of foreign gifts as well as under-declaring his taxes. I argue that due to a lack of transparency and oversight in foreign gifts management, millions of dollars were misappropriated by the wildly popular former prime minister.

However, Imran Khan isn’t alone in this regard. Similarly, I emphasize that the criminal proceedings against popular leaders are typically dubbed as politically motivated which has led to obstruction of justice and aborted attempts in ensuring transparency in financial matters.

Take the United States for example. A report by Congressional Democrats on the House Oversight Committee allege that former President Donald Trump failed to properly report and document more than 100 gifts with a value of over $250,000. Federal and state investigations are underway into Trump’s behavior as president and as a private citizen. And if you follow the news coming out of America, Donald Trump has framed the investigations as a “witch hunt.”

During an interview at the Lincoln Memorial in 2020, Donald Trump made the quixotic claim that he’s been treated worse than Abraham Lincoln, who was shot and killed in 1865. “I’m greeted by a hostile press the likes of which no president has ever seen. The closest would be that gentleman right up there [motioning to the giant sculpture of Lincoln]. They always said, Lincoln, nobody got treated worse than Lincoln. I believe I am treated worse. You’re there, you see those press conferences, they come at me with questions that are disgraceful, to be honest, disgraceful.”

Similar accusations have been made against Imran Khan. According to a detailed report, Khan and his family received gifts worth millions of dollars at lower values and did not disclose these gifts on his tax returns as required by law. The government filed a reference to the country’s electoral commission requiring the election body to disqualify Khan from his national assembly seat, further barring him from running in future elections.

After a detailed hearing, the commission found Khan guilty of misappropriating official gifts as well as under-reporting the monetary values of these gifts to avoid paying taxes. The commission disqualified Khan from parliament. Similarly, it referred the criminal case to the local magistrate for taking up criminal proceedings against Khan for misappropriation of the government exchequer.

Similarly, the government has been keenly pursuing criminal proceedings against Khan and the court has issued multiple warrants for his arrest. However, Khan has relentlessly charged the government with fabricating false charges against him and his family. He maintains that the government is persecuting him and his party because they are demanding early elections. However, due to the refusal of Khan to appear in court, the government raided his house in Lahore multiple times. However, the police could not arrest Khan due to resistance from his followers.

Pakistan’s electoral commission discovered a long list of illegal activities by Khan: the gifts received by Khan and his family were not deposited with the Cabinet Division as required by law; the gifts were intentionally assessed at lower value to benefit Khan and his family; and as required by law, Khan and his family did not disclose the gains from these gifts in their tax returns.

Like Trump, who encouraged his followers to break the law in trying to overturn a fair and free election, the government of Pakistan maintains that Khan is using his party and popularity to obstruct justice. Whatever happens with Donald Trump or Imran Khan, it is imperative that the rule of law be followed and both men don’t abuse their former positions of power to obstruct justice.

I argue that corrupt politicians use their political capital and popularity to undermine anti-graft proceedings against them by clouding the transparency of these proceedings as political victimization. Further, I argue that the lack of oversight on government functionaries in their financial dealings has eroded the transparency in their dealings as well as shaken the trust of elected officials.

Salman Ghani is with the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University.