The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Saturday submitted its challan in the cipher case declaring Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan and Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi as “guilty” in the matter.

In its challan, the FIA requested the court to proceed with their trial.

The name of former PTI secretary-general Asad Umar, according to sources, was not added to the list of accused individuals, while the PTI chief’s former principal secretary, Azam Khan, was designated as a “strong witness” in the case.

The FIA supplemented its challan with Azam’s testimonies recorded under Sections 161 and 164, underscoring that the former prime minister had maintained possession of the cipher and allegedly abused the classified information for personal gain.

The sources further noted that Khan possessed a copy of the cipher but refrained from returning it, exacerbating the allegations against him.

Moreover, the FIA also attached the transcript of Khan and Qureshi’s speech on March 27 — the day when the former premier brandished a letter claiming it was a cipher from a foreign nation, which mentioned that his government should be removed from power.

The agency also submitted a list of 28 witnesses to the court with the challan after recording their statements under Section 161.

Sources further revealed that former foreign secretaries Asad Majeed, Sohail Mehmood and the then additional foreign secretary Faisal Niaz Tirmizi have also been added to the list of witnesses.

On September 26, the special court extended judicial remand of the PTI chairman and vice-chairman till October 10.

Last month, the FIA booked the PTI chief and the party’s vice chairman under the Official Secrets Act for allegedly misplacing and misusing classified document for their vested political interests.

“Consequent upon the conclusion of the enquiry No. 111/2023 dated 05.10.2022, registered in the CTW, FIA Islamabad, it transpired that former prime minister namely Imran Ahmad Khan Niazi, former foreign minister namely Shah Mahmood Qureshi and their other associates are involved in communications of information contained in the secret classified document (Cipher Telegram received from Parep. Washington dated 7th March, 2022 to Secretary Ministry of Foreign Affairs) to the unauthorised person (i.e. public at large) by twisting the facts to achieve their ulterior motives and personal gains in a manner prejudicial to the interests of state security,” read first information report (FIR) registered against the PTI leaders.

Subsequently, both leaders were arrested in connection with the investigation into the case and a special court was established under the Official Secrets Act to try the accused.

Ciphergate

The controversy first emerged on March 27, 2022, when Khan — less than a month before his ouster in April 2022 — brandished a letter, claiming that it was a cipher from a foreign nation, which mentioned that his government should be removed from power.

He did not reveal the contents of the letter nor mention the name of the nation that had sent it. But a few days later, he named the United States and said that Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Affairs Donald Lu had sought his removal.

The cipher was about former Pakistan ambassador to the US Majeed’s meeting with Lu.

The former prime minister, claiming that he was reading contents from the cipher, said that “all will be forgiven for Pakistan if Imran Khan is removed from power”.

Then on March 31, the National Security Committee (NSC) took up the matter and decided to issue a “strong demarche” to the country for its “blatant interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan”.

Later, after his removal, then-prime minister Shehbaz Sharif convened a meeting of the NSC, which came to the conclusion that it had found no evidence of a foreign conspiracy in the cable.

In the two audio leaks that took the internet by storm and shocked the public after these events, the former prime minister, then-federal minister Asad Umar, and then-principle secretary Azam could allegedly be heard discussing the US cipher and how to use it in their interest.

On September 30, the federal cabinet took notice of the matter and constituted a committee to probe the contents of the audio leaks.

In October, the cabinet gave the green signal to initiate action against the former prime minister and handed over the case to the FIA.

Once FIA was given the task to probe the matter, it summoned Khan, Umar, and other leaders of the party, but the PTI chief challenged the summons and secured a stay order from the court.

The Lahore High Court (LHC(, in July this year, recalled the stay order against the call-up notice to Khan by the FIA.


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2023-09-30

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