Jailed former prime minister Imran Khan admitted misplacing a confidential diplomatic cable as he was interrogated by Pakistan’s top investigative agency at the Attock Jail in a case filed under the Official Secrets Act for wrongful use of the classified document.
Khan, 70, is currently serving a three-year jail term after he was sentenced by a court in a corruption case earlier this month.
The cable in question was the same document Khan had for long mentioned as evidence of a U.S.-backed conspiracy to remove him as the prime minister last year.
Khan had waved a document at a rally days before his ouster as Prime Minister in April 2022, saying it was proof of foreign conspiracy.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman’s interrogation in the matter comes days after he was booked under the Official Secrets Act for making the content of a confidential diplomatic cable from the country’s embassy in the U.S. public.
The counter-terrorism wing (CTW) of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on Saturday visited the former Prime Minister in the jail, media reports said.
FIA sources said a six-member joint investigation team, led by FIA Deputy Director Ayaz Khan, met Khan in the office of the Attock Jail’s deputy superintendent and interrogated him for over an hour.
During interrogation, Khan admitted to losing the cypher, saying he couldn’t recall where he kept it, The News newspaper reported. Khan also denied that the paper he waved at a public gathering last year, days before the ouster of his government, as proof of the conspiracy was the diplomatic cable.
“The paper I gestured in the public were Cabinet meeting minutes and not cypher,” the paper quoted Khan as saying.
The investigation agency had registered the case against Khan and PTI vice chairman and former foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, after ascertaining their deliberate involvement in misusing the cypher and its misplacement following a probe.
The FIR also stated that the role of the former Prime Minister’s principal secretary, Azam Khan, ex-planning minister Asad Umar, and other associates involved would be determined during the investigation.
Qureshi, a close aide of Khan, was arrested by police from his house here on August 19, and during Saturday’s interrogation, Khan was questioned about the former’s revelations.
Citing the cypher, Khan has been alleging the U.S. of hatching a conspiracy to topple his government. The U.S. has time and again denied such allegations, terming them “categorically false”.
The purported cypher contained an account of a meeting between U.S. State Department officials, including Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu and then Pakistani envoy Asad Majeed Khan.
The cricketer-turned-politician came under increased scrutiny following the publication of a purported copy of the secret cable by the U.S. media outlet The Intercept, with many in the previous government led by Shehbaz Sharif pointing fingers at the PTI chief for being the source of the leak.
Former interior minister Rana Sanaullah has said that if Khan had indeed lost the copy of the cypher provided to him, it would constitute a crime under the Official Secrets Act.
Citing the cypher, The Intercept, in a report published earlier this month, said, “The US State Department encouraged the Pakistani government in a March 7, 2022, meeting to remove Imran Khan as prime minister over his neutrality on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.” The publication, however, also stated it made extensive efforts to authenticate the document, but “given the security climate in Pakistan, independent confirmation from sources in the Pakistani government was not possible”.
The U.S. State Department had said it could not verify the authenticity of the document.
The cypher case against Khan became serious after his principal secretary, Azam Khan, stated before a magistrate and the FIA that the former premier had used the U.S. cypher for his ‘political gains’ and to avert a no-confidence vote against him last year.
On August 5, Imran was arrested and sent to Attock Jail after a trial court found him guilty in the Toshakhana corruption case.
Additional Sessions Judge Humayun Dilawar also disqualified the PTI chief for five years, apparently ending his prospects for taking part in the upcoming general elections, dates for which have not been fixed.
Dozens of cases had been launched against Khan after his removal from office last year.
It is believed that he may be arrested by the FIA in the cypher case if his sentence in the Toshakhana case is suspended.