Bling and beamers: Pakistan politicians’ gift trove revealed

ISLAMABAD – Pakistan politicians and government officials received a treasure trove of gifts from foreign dignitaries over the past two decades including more than 150 Rolex watches, bullet-proof BMW cars and a 21-karat gold crown, newly released records show.

The South Asian nation, home to more than 220 million, has always been economically precarious and is currently gripped by a punishing downturn which has sent the cost-of-living soaring.

But records reveal a staggering list of luxury products the political and administrative elite have acquired.

Under the rules governing Islamabad’s ‘Toshakhana’ — a Persian word meaning ‘treasure house’ — politicians can keep official gifts if they have a low worth, while they must pay a dramatically reduced fee to the government for extravagant items.

Information minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said Tuesday (14) that the government would introduce a new limit, meaning gifts worth more than $300 cannot be kept by officials.

The ream of paperwork reveals former military dictator Pervez Musharraf – who died last month – kept a pearl necklace worth around $250 by paying just 750 rupees in 2006, or around $12 according to the exchange rate at the time.

In many countries, diplomatic gifts are intended as a symbolic exchange between cultures rather than tailored presents for specific individuals.

Former president Asif Ali Zardari – the husband of ex-premier Benazir Bhutto who was slain in a suicide attack on her convoy in 2007 – was gifted three bulletproof vehicles two years after her death.

The Toyota SUV and two BMWs were worth around $1.6 million but Zardari paid the equivalent of just $240,000 to keep them in his personal fleet.

The 21-karat gold crown, worth around $500, was bought by former prime minister Shaukat Aziz in 2005 for around a tenth of its value.

And like dozens of others on the list, former prime minister Imran Khan took the opportunity to buy a Rolex watch at a vastly reduced rate.

In 2018, he paid the rupee equivalent of around $6,000 for a watch appraised at around $32,000.

Rolex watches were also bought by an Arabic interpreter, the prime minister’s personal physician and a press secretary.

The Swiss-made timepieces generally hold their value and there is a healthy resale market among the super-rich.

The Toshakhana records do not detail which foreign states gave the gifts between 2002 and the present.

The papers were released at the weekend amid a spiralling row over Khan, who is facing allegations that he did not declare gifts received during his time in office from 2018 to 2022, nor the profit he made from reselling them.

Khan surged into office on a promise to reform Pakistan’s deeply corrupted politics. But since being ousted he has become tangled in allegations of his own double-dealings.

Pakistan ranked 140 out of 180 governments on Transparency International’s 2022 corruption perceptions index.

– Agence France-Presse


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