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October 18, 2019

MQM influenced initial probe into Baldia factory fire, ATC told

Karachi

October 18, 2019

Police told an anti-terrorism court (ATC) on Thursday that the initial investigation into the Baldia factory fire incident was conducted under pressure from the then powerful Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which hindered the facts from coming to light.

SSP Sajid Sadozai, who was appointed as the investigating officer in the third joint investigation team formed in 2015, testified before the ATC-IX judge that suspect Rizwan Qureshi acted as a whistleblower for the final probe into the case.

The joint investigation team (JIT) report had corroborated Qureshi’s version of the fire that it was started by men belonging to the MQM over the factory owners’ refusal to pay them extortion money, disproving the previous claim of the prosecution that the fire was caused by a short circuit.

Two hundred and sixty people were killed and 49 others were injured in the fire at the Ali Enterprises garments factory on September 11, 2012. Seventeen of the dead buried at the Edhi graveyard still await identification because their DNA samples could not be matched with anyone’s.

Sadozai said the re-investigation found that the then head of the MQM’s Karachi Tanzeemi Committee, Hammad Siddiqui, had demanded Rs250 million from the factory owners through the then joint incharge of the party’s Baldia Town sector, Abdul Rehman, alias Bhola.

When the factory owners refused, added Sadozai, Siddiqui ordered Rehman to set the factory on fire in a bid to “teach the owners a lesson”. Since the MQM was holding a key position in the then government and was powerful unlike today, said the officer, it affected the investigation. ­

In a previous hearing, Arshad Bhaila, an owner of the factory, had told the court that through the then Citizens-Police Liaison Committee chief Ahmed Chinoy, the then Sindh governor Dr Ishratul Ebad had also been involved in preventing the facts in the case from unfolding.

Sadozai added that in the light of the re-investigation, the JIT recommended the government to re-lodge the case under the Anti-Terrorism Act because it was found that the incident was an arson attack and not a result of a short circuit.

Ten suspects are currently on trial for the arson attack, including the MQM’s then commerce & industries minister Rauf Siddiqui, some factory employees and private persons.

Of these, Rehman and MQM worker Zubair, alias Charya, are in judicial custody in jail, while the rest of the accused have secured bail, except Siddiqui and Ali Hasan Qadri, who are absconding. The defence lawyers cross-examined the officer’s statement, and the remaining will be done on Friday (today).

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