ISLAMABAD: On the recommendation of Pakistan’s federal cabinet, the Federal Investigation Agency has formed a joint investigation team against former Prime Minister Imran Khan for “prejudicing” national security and the interests of the state by exposing official secrets in what has widely come to be known as the ‘cipher case.’
The saga is related to alleged diplomatic correspondence between Washington and Islamabad, which Khan has said was part of a US conspiracy to topple his government. Washington has denied being involved in any such conspiracy. Khan was ousted from power in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence in April last year.
In a notice asking Khan to appear for investigation on July 25, the FIA said the enquiry revolved around “charges of prejudicing national security and the interests of the state by directly revealing, without proper authorization, classified information by the former Prime Minster Mr. Imran Khan, his political associates, and the then secretary to the Prime Minister through a cipher telegram, its subsequent misuse, and unauthorized retention.”
The notice requested that Khan bring documents to back up his claims, and warned him that failure to respond could result in legal action. Khan has in the past not complied with two similar notices to appear before the agency.
The decision to probe Khan in the ‘cipher case’ was taken after the ex-premier’s former principal secretary Azam Khan reportedly recorded a court statement on Wednesday to the effect that a US diplomatic encrypted letter was manipulated by Khan in March 2022 to serve his political goals, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah told reporters on Tuesday.
Sanaullah referred to an incident when the former cricket star turned politician addressed a gathering of supporters and waved the document in question, describing it as “proof” that he was threatened and claiming that his ouster was a conspiracy between his opponents and the United States. Pakistan’s military, Washington and Sharif’s government have all denied any conspiracies against Khan.
The document that Khan waved was apparently a diplomatic correspondence between Asad Majeed, Pakistan’s then-ambassador to the United States, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Islamabad, according to Azam Khan, a former secretary to Imran Khan and one of scores of his followers who have abandoned him since his ouster.
The content of the document, dubbed the cipher, has not been made public. Azam Khan, in a reported statement to court earlier on Wednesday, said the document was about Khan’s visit to Moscow, which coincided with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2021.
The 70-year-old former cricket hero-turned-politician says Washington got involved in ousting him after his visit to Moscow.
Sanaullah said Azam Khan had also testified that Khan told him he had lost the copy of the letter when he was asked for its return.
“It is a crime to expose an official secret,” the interior minister said, adding the state will be filing the charges in the court against Khan.
“I don’t think he lost the copy. He still has it. It has to be recovered from him.”
Khan has said he did not believe his former secretary could testify against him. “I will not accept it as long as I don’t hear it from him directly,” he told reporters after a court hearing in another case.
In a tweet on Wednesday evening, Khan said, “In their feverish attempts to implicate me in any case just to get me disqualified and jailed, this current assortment of incompetent crooks have again shot themselves in the foot. They have provided me with an opportunity to do a proper exposé of this whole Cypher drama.”
“Tomorrow I will share the uncensored details of how this conspiracy unfolded to overthrow a govt which had the best economic performance in the last 17 years,” Khan added.
The secrecy charge is the latest in a multitude of charges Khan has faced since his ouster, including graft, murder and sedition. Khan says the government and military are plotting to throw him in jail and dismantle his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party. Both deny the charge.