ISLAMABAD: A leaked audio recording allegedly featuring a conversation between the wife of ex-Prime Minister Imran Khan and a close aide of the former premier has once again put the spotlight on a controversy surrounding the sale of state gifts during Khan’s tenure in office.
The election regulator in October disqualified Khan from holding public office in a case registered against him for failing to declare assets from the sale of state gifts. Khan was accused of misusing his position as then prime minister to buy items from the toshakhana, or state repository for gifts, to sell at higher rates in the market. A major charge was that the former premier failed to declare some of the earnings in his annual statements of assets submitted before the election commission.
At the heart of the controversy was an expensive Graff wristwatch set gifted to the former premier when he went to Saudi Arabia on his first official trip in 2018. A Dubai-based Pakistani businessman, Umar Farooq Zahoor, has claimed he bought the watch from Khan in 2019.
“Khan sb has some watches, he has said to send them to you so you can sell them etcetera, because they are not of use to him, so he wants that you [sell them],” a voice believed to belong to Bushra Bibi, Khan’s wife, is heard saying to Sayed Zulfikar Abbas Bukhari, a Pakistani businessman and politician who is one of Khan’s closest aides.
“Definitely murshid, I will do it,” a voice purportedly of Bukhari is heard saying, using the Urdu word to refer to a spiritual guide or teacher.
However, speaking to Arab News, Bukhari denied it was his voice in the audio clip.
"No, it has nothing to do with that watch [gifted to Khan by Saudi crown prince],” he wrote in a text message. “And it’s a fake audio. Cut, copy [and] paste,” he added.
Bukhari said he had never sold any watch ever, calling for a forensic audit of the clip.
“I’ll [even] pay for forensics to be done,” he added.
Last month, Khan said he would take legal action against Zahoor and the Jang media group that conducted Zahoor's interview in which he said he paid Khan $2 million to buy the Graff set.
There have been a number of audio leaks from the Prime Minister’s Office in recent months, including discussions between current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and members of his cabinet.
In another leak, Khan is believed to be having a conversation with his then principal secretary Azam Khan about a diplomatic cipher that was at the center of Khan’s allegations that his ouster in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence in April was part of a regime change conspiracy hatched by the United States. Washington denies this.
In another leak, a voice believed to be Khan’s can be heard telling Asad Umar, then planning minister, and Shireen Mazari, who held the human rights portfolio, to forcefully push upon the public the narrative that a “foreign conspiracy” was behind the ouster of his government.
In yet another leak, a voice believed to be Khan’s is heard discussing political horse-trading and the possibility of “buying” five legislators in the days leading up to the no-confidence vote in which Khan was removed.
PM Sharif has since launched an investigation into the leaks and strengthened cyber security protocols in government offices.