A year after promising to sue Geo for defamation in UK, Imran Khan backs out

On 16 Nov 2022, Imran announced that he had decided to take legal action for defamation against Geo News

Former prime minister Imran Khan. — AFP/File

LONDON: A year after making headlines with his announcement that he will sue Geo News and its anchor Shahzeb Khanzada in the United Kingdom, former prime minister Imran Khan has backed out from his pledge as his UK lawyers have not served any proceedings against Geo and its prime-time anchor at the UK High Court for defamation.

On 16 November 2022, Imran had announced that he had decided to take legal action for defamation against Geo News and its anchor Khanzada in the UK for “character assassination” after the anchor interviewed Dubai-based businessman Umar Farooq Zahoor on 15 November, who purchased Toshakhana rare Graft Watch Kaaba Edition for the price of $2 million — the same watch that Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Suleman had gifted to the former premier, which was then sold in the open market.

A year on, Imran’s UK lawyers have not served proceedings against Geo News after a strong defence put forward by Geo lawyers at Carter-Ruck in response to the initial claim issued by Imran’s lawyers based in Saint Helens.

Imran had also promised to sue Geo News and Zahoor in Dubai, but no action has been taken in the UAE, where the initial attempt by Imran’s lawyer failed as he couldn’t establish any basis against Zahoor or Geo.

It was the UK where Imran and his party leaders had stressed the main focus.

Imran had announced in a video on 16 November and through PTI’s official X, formerly known as Twitter, account: “I will do a case against Geo Group in London. I have spoken to my lawyer and I have decided to start a case in London against Geo. I will do this because I have two registered charities in the UK which I head: NAMAL University and Shaukat Khanum. Geo airs in the UK and the basis of my case will be that Geo has defamed me.”

On December 17, 2022, the former premier said in a tweet: “My UAE lawyers led by Hassan Shad have now filed criminal defamation (libel and slander) proceedings under the UAE law against Geo TV, Shahzeb Khanzada and fraudster Umer Farooq Zahoor.”

Imran was referring to Khanzada’s interview with Zahoor in which Zahoor produced the expensive watch and revealed that Farah Gogi had sold the wristwatch to him in April 2019 for $2 million, worth around Rs280 million at the time of the sale.

The businessman also claimed that the PTI people wanted to sell the watch for $4 million to $5 million, but after negotiations, he purchased it for $2 million. He said the payments were made in cash at Farah’s insistence.

Imran’s English lawyer wrote to Geo News London saying that the broadcast had damaged the ex-PM’s credibility and “undoubtedly puts the projects of our client’s charities at considerable risk” and “the Programme has seriously injured the reputation of our client and has caused him very considerable personal and professional embarrassment”.

The claim said: “Mr Khan is a philanthropist. Within the United Kingdom, Mr Khan is the Trustee of The Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust (registered charity number 1000580) which operates the Imran Khan Cancer Appeal and Namal College (registered charity number 1000580). Our client is personally involved in the global fundraising efforts for these charities which raise millions of pounds in donations chiefly from individuals (and their businesses) of Pakistani heritage based outside of Pakistan. The broadcast of the Programme and the meaning of the words used during the Programme seriously libelled our client.”

Geo lawyers told Imran’s lawyers that they had effectively failed, in numerous letters, to advance any evidence of serious harm said to have been suffered by Imran as a result of Geo’s broadcast of November 15, 2022, in England and Wales.

Geo lawyers argued that on September 18, 2018, Imran, who was at that time the prime minister, accepted gifts of an antique Graff watch, a diamond ring, a gold pen, and a set of diamond cufflinks from Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman during the course of a state visit; then made a deposit to purchase the Saudi Gifts in the sum of 20,178,000 Rs; and on October 1, 2020, made a public statement that as a result of monies raised through the sale of gifts he had retained he has paid for a road near his house to be fixed in Bani Gala.

Geo maintained that its broadcast had no agenda and it focussed only on facts on October 21, 2022, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) found Imran to be guilty of corrupt practices in relation to the Saudi gifts and Toshakhana gifts generally and was de-seated from being a parliamentary member and removes him as a member of the National Assembly of Pakistan for dishonesty.

Geo lawyers cited examples of numerous local and international media where the same facts were reported that the ECP had declared that Imran was involved in corrupt practices.

Geo’s lawyers wrote: “Your client will no doubt agree that as a result of the ECP’s decision on 21 October 2022, which found him guilty of corrupt practices and led to his immediate disqualification from the National Assembly, your client suffered significant harm to his reputation both within Pakistan and indeed globally.

To the extent that your client has suffered any harm within this jurisdiction, which for the avoidance of doubt is not admitted, it is our client’s position that this is as a result of the very serious findings of the ECP on 21 October 2021.”

It was on November 14, 2022, when Geo was contacted by Zahoor with information that he was the buyer of the Saudi gifts but Geo News took steps to verify the information it had received to determine whether it was credible — this due diligence included digitally analysing the footage received of the Saudi Gifts and its supporting certification.

It was only after the verification – which established that Zahoor had the watch and the certification – that Geo News decided to interview Mr Zahoor for ‘Today with Shahzeb Khanzada’.

Carter Ruck wrote to Imran’s lawyers with evidence that Geo had tried to contact PTI leadership with over two dozen messages but every leader said they are banned from appearing on Geo.

In March last year, the authorities in Dubai had refused to entertain an attempt to lodge a case of criminal defamation suit on behalf of the PTI chairman by his lawyer here — due to lack of evidence.

Imran had instructed his lawyer in Dubai Hassan Aslam to file a defamation suit and criminal proceedings in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) against Geo News, Khanzada, and Dubai-based businessman Zahoor.

Hassan Aslam Shad had contacted Barsha police station earlier this year to register the case as announced by Imran but the Dubai police refused to entertain the request due to lack of evidence and failure of the lawyer to establish merits of the case under the UAE laws.

Imran’s UK lawyer didn’t respond to our request for a comment.

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