From the time Abdul Rahman Bukhatir took Indian and Pakistani cricketers to play one-day matches in Sharjah in the 1980s, sub-continental politicians, cricket and money of the wrong colour have been umbilically linked. This long read in the FT narrates the colourful story of what Imran Khan and Pakistani tycoon Arif Naqvi got upto a decade ago. On the face of things, there seemed nothing untoward about what they were doing:
“At the height of his success, the Pakistani tycoon Arif Naqvi invited cricket superstar Imran Khan and hundreds of bankers, lawyers and investors to his walled country estate in the Oxfordshire village of Wootton for weekends of sport and drinking. The host was the founder of the Dubai-based Abraaj Group, then one of the largest private equity firms operating in emerging markets, with billions of dollars under management.
At the “Wootton T20 Cup”, over which Naqvi presided from 2010 to 2012, the main event was a cricket tournament between teams with invented names: the Peshawar Perverts or the Faisalabad Fothermuckers. They played on an immaculate pitch amid 14 acres of formal gardens and parkland at Wootton Place, Naqvi’s 17th-century residence. Veteran cricket commentator Henry Blofeld attended along with expert umpires and film 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 an invitation to the event. The guests were asked to pay between £2,000 and £2,500 each to attend, with the money going to unspecified “philanthropic causes”, Naqvi said.”
Simon Clark, the author of this piece, then digs deeper into these fees which looked on the face of it to be philanthropic donations: “The fees were paid to Wootton Cricket Ltd, which, despite the name, was in fact a Cayman Islands-incorporated company owned by Naqvi and the money was being used to bankroll Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Khan’s political party. Funds poured into Wootton Cricket from companies and individuals, including at least £2mn from a United Arab Emirates government minister who is also a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family.
Pakistan forbids foreign nationals and companies from funding political parties, but Abraaj emails and internal documents seen by the Financial Times, including a bank statement covering the period between February 28 and May 30 2013 for a Wootton Cricket account in the UAE, show that both companies and foreign nationals as well as citizens of Pakistan sent millions of dollars to Wootton Cricket — before money was transferred from the account to Pakistan for the PTI.
The funding of the party is at the centre of a years-long investigation by the Election Commission of Pakistan, an inquiry that has taken on even greater importance as Khan — who lost office in April — plots a political comeback.”
What Clark digs up next is extraordinary and anyone who wants to understand election funding should read this piece carefully to understand how the game works. Here is an excerpt (note: PTI is the name of Imran Khan’s party): “While it has previously been reported that Naqvi funded Khan’s party, the ultimate source of the money has never before been disclosed. Wootton Cricket’s bank statement shows it received $1.3mn on March 14 2013 from Abraaj Investment Management Ltd, the fund management unit of Naqvi’s private equity firm, boosting the account’s previous balance of $5,431. Later the same day, $1.3mn was transferred from the account directly to a PTI bank account in Pakistan. Abraaj expensed the cost to a holding company through which it controlled K-Electric, the power provider to Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city.
A further $2mn flowed into the Wootton Cricket account in April 2013 from Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak al-Nahyan, a member of Abu Dhabi’s royal family, government minister and chair of Pakistan’s Bank Alfalah, according to the bank statement and a copy of the Swift transfer details.
Naqvi then exchanged emails with a colleague about transferring $1.2mn more to the PTI. Six days after the $2mn arrived in the Wootton Cricket bank account, Naqvi transferred $1.2mn from it to Pakistan in two instalments….
It was a critical time for Khan to gather funds ahead of the election scheduled for May 2013, and Naqvi worked closely with other Pakistani businessmen to raise money for his campaign. The largest entry in Wootton Cricket’s bank account in the months before the election was the $2mn from Sheikh Nahyan, now the UAE’s minister for tolerance. He is also an investor in Pakistan….
K-Electric was Abraaj’s single largest investment. But as the private equity firm ran into financial difficulties in 2016, Naqvi struck a deal to sell control of the power company to Chinese state-controlled Shanghai Electric Power for $1.77bn. Political approval for the deal in Pakistan was important and Naqvi lobbied the governments of both Sharif and Khan for backing. In 2016, he authorised a $20mn payment for Pakistan politicians to gain their support…”
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