KARACHI: Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain was arrested on Tuesday in London on suspicion of money-laundering as thousands of people in his home city of Karachi staged a sit-in calling for his release.
The London Metropolitan police confirmed that a 60-year-old man had been arrested from a northwest London property on charges of money-laundering, but they declined to disclose the exact identity for "legal reasons."
The police said a Specialist Operations unit was currently carrying out a search operation at the property in northwest London.
DawnNews quoted the Scotland Yard as saying that the investigation would continue for 24 hours.
Moreover, London police has said that an audio-video statement has been recorded of the arrested man.
Moreover, a spokesman for the British High Commission said that the UK's consulate in Karachi has been temporarily closed down.
“We deployed extra security at the British High Commission in the southern part of Karachi as soon we learnt about Altaf Hussain's arrest in London through media,” Deputy Inspector General Abdul Khalique Shaikh told Reuters.
“We have increased police patrolling and we are making further deployments at sensitive spots in the city,” he added.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that the issue of Hussain’s arrest was of an extremely sensitive nature, adding that the government would take all legal angles into account.
The premier has directed parliamentarians and members of the PML-N not to comment on the news.
After initially denying reports of Hussain’s arrest, the MQM Rabita Committee confirmed that Altaf Hussain was taken to the police station for interrogation and later to a local hospital.
In a press release, the committee said Altaf Hussain was undergoing medical checkups at the hospital.
“Doctors have seen him and asked for blood tests. The fasting blood test will be carried out tomorrow, Wednesday, at around 11am,” said the press release.
“Mr Hussain will remain in the hospital overnight. The doctors will decide after looking at the fasting blood test report if he is medically fit to be interviewed by the police or not,” it added.
Earlier, addressing media representatives via telephone from London, MQM’s Nadeem Nusrat had said that Hussain was at his residence and in touch with Nusrat.
The MQM leader said that Hussain had been ill for some time, adding that he was scheduled to be shifted to a hospital today when the police arrived at his residence.
Nusrat advised all party members inside and outside Pakistan to control their emotions and not do anything that may go against the teachings of their leader.
Nusrat insisted that Hussain was not under arrest but at home.
Moreover, MQM leader Farooq Sattar also appealed to party workers to remain calm and pray for Hussain.
“We should stay calm, we should not become impatient in any condition. The workers must be aware with the developments, keep in touch with the party office, stay united and also look around you,” said Sattar.
“We should act on the teachings of Altaf Hussain. We should pray for his health, we should say that he should be given medical treatment and his medical tests should be conducted,” he added.
MQM leader Haider Abbas Rizvi said it was the prime responsibility of the activists not to resort to violence and remain peaceful.
It is time for party activists to be composed and avoid spreading rumours, he said, adding that those who were trying to create panic among the citizens were not MQM activists.
Our activists are one who follow Altaf Hussain’s teachings of peace and unity, he said.
Within minutes of his arrest, panicked shop-keepers and market stall owners rushed to close their businesses for fear of violence, residents said.
Mohammad Moosa, a resident of Karachi, told Reuters: “All shops and markets are shut. Even small cigarette shops are closed. Petrol station operators have also closed down, fearing violence.”
According to DawnNews, "namaloom afraad" or unknown persons had taken to the streets and the city was in a state of frenzy with a number of neighbourhoods experiencing traffic jams.
Three people were injured in firing in Baldia Town, Gulshan-i-Iqbal and Natha Khan areas.
Three buses and a dozen cars were also set alight in Shafiq Mor and Gulshan-i-Iqbal.
Many rushed to stock up on groceries in anticipation of a prolonged shutdown while office workers left for home early, clogging up roads.
“We don't know for how long the shops will remain closed and I want to store as much groceries as I could,” Razia Begum, 45, said as she jostled for space in a packed shop.
A spokesman for Pakistan Railways told AFP that all trains leaving Karachi had been temporarily halted.
Moreover, the Karachi Stock Exchange (KSE-100 index) fell 780 points immediately after the news came and commercial centres across Sindh's provincial capital started to shut down.
In the wake of the frenzy engulfing the city, the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) demanded that the provincial capital be handed under military control, adding that if the government failed to establish peace in the next 24 hours, a strike will be held.
Meanwhile, the federal government, on the instruction of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has directed its high commission in London to immediately provide counselor services and legal assistance to the MQM chief.
Expressing his annoyance, however, over the reaction in Karachi soon after the arrest of Altaf Hussain, a government spokesman said those actions were not justified and against the law.
Hussain’s supporters gathered outside the party’s headquarters, Nine Zero, chanting slogans in favour of Hussain.
They said they would continue protesting until Hussain was freed.
Later in the day, MQM leader Haider Abbas Rizvi said that the protest sit-in outside Nine Zero had concluded and now supporters and workers of the party would hold a sit-in at Numaish chowrangi.
Rizvi added that MQM workers would continue the protest sit-in at Numaish until Hussain addressed them.
Hussain was being investigated for money laundering worth at least 400,000 pounds as well as for incitement to violence and MQM leader Dr Imran Farooq’s murder.
MQM leader Farogh Naseem however said that Hussain had not been arrested and Scotland Yard only needed him for a statement in relation to a case.
Last week, senior MQM leader Farooq Sattar had disclosed at a public meeting that Hussain’s bank accounts in London were being frozen and had asked party workers and supporters to continue their ‘peaceful struggle’ against the British government.
Hussain, who has been living in London for over two decades and is now a British citizen, did not address that meeting held to condemn money-laundering investigations against him by UK authorities.
Speaking to DawnNews, London-based journalist Farooq Shah said Hussain had been arrested and the police was searching his house.
He added that the British High Commission had told the Pakistani government that if they take action against Hussain, it would be with full evidence.
Shah moreover said that if proven guilty for committing a crime in the UK, the guilty person would not be able to leave the country and would be penalised in Great Britain only.
He, however, insisted that evidence against the accused must be strong enough to merit action.
Jaffer Rizvi of the BBC said if people arrests someone, it’s a long process. They may even have arrested him for a statement only and may let him go after 24 hours.
He said he is trying to find out if Hussain was called for a statement only or if he had indeed been arrested.
Rizvi said the police hadn’t named Hussain and had only said that a 60-year-old man had been arrested.
He said the police in London must have strong evidence on Hussain, adding that the development would have a strong impact on Pakistan’s politics and economy.
Also read: The UK news programme that took on MQM
In July 2013, the London Metropolitan Police had confirmed that investigations against Hussain had been initiated on charges of money laundering and incitement to violence.
The Metropolitan Police had confirmed that ‘a considerable amount of money’ had been found during raids on Hussain’s residence and office in London.
The reply had said that the cash was found when a counter-terrorism unit of police raided Hussain’s office on Dec 6, 2012 under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act in connection with the investigation of Dr Imran Farooq murder case.
Police had at the time said that the money was seized under the Proceeds of Crime Act.