The Toshakhana is a government-owned department under the control of the Cabinet Division, formed in 1974, to retain gifts given by foreign states to members of Parliament, ministers, foreign secretaries, the president, and the prime minister. Always a cause of some controversy—both former president Asif Ali Zardari and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif have faced graft cases related to it—the department has never been under greater scrutiny than during its operations under the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led government of Imran Khan.
In January 2021, the Pakistan Information Commission (PIC) accepted an application filed under the Right to Information Act to publicize details of gifts received by then-prime minister Imran Khan since he assumed office in August 2018. It then directed the Cabinet Division to provide the requested information but was stonewalled, with the order being challenged in the Islamabad High Court over claims that release this information would jeopardize international ties. As the case progressed, reports began to circulate of the PTI-led government resisting any move to publicize the list of gifts because several items had been sold off.
Then-prime minister Khan subsequently submitted his annual returns for tax year 2020-21 in September 2021—earlier than his dates of submission for previous years—declaring a “precious Toshakhana item” valued at Rs. 11.68 million. The matter came to a head in March 2022, when it was reported that several Toshakhana gifts given to Khan had been sold off in November 2020. In August, the ruling coalition filed a case against Khan over not sharing details of Toshakhana gifts in annual assets submitted to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). This case concluded on Oct. 21, with the ECP disqualifying Khan from holding public office over “corrupt practices,” even as the PTI defended the sale by maintaining its chief had the right to sell any property he had secured from the Toshakhana.
But the matter didn’t end there. This week, U.A.E.-based businessman Umar Farooq Zahoor alleged to Geo News that he had purchased for $2 million a gift-set given to Khan by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Claiming this had been arranged by former accountability czar Shahzad Akbar in 2019, he alleged Bushra Bibi’s friend, Farah Khan, had delivered the items and received payment in cash. The key issue here is that Khan’s declaration claims the gift was sold for Rs. 51 million, far lower than the sum alleged by Zahoor, suggesting tax evasion and false declaration before the ECP.
Both Akbar and Ahsan Jameel Gujjar—Farah’s husband—have denied any role in the sale of Toshakhana gifts to Zahoor. The PTI has further attempted to discredit him by pointing to cases pending against him and his family in various foreign countries. Muddying the waters, however, are conversations leaked by Zahoor, ostensibly with PTI’s Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, in which the latter urges the businessman to retract his claims and not malign Khan.
The PTI and Khan have since vowed to file defamation cases against Geo News and Zahoor. The scandal is now making headlines daily, with no end in sight. Whatever direction it takes in the coming days could play a significant role in not only the public’s perception of Khan, but also his electoral future.