Rangers’ report blames MQM for Baldia factory fire

Published February 7, 2015
File photo shows fire-fighters trying to control the blaze at the garment factory in Baldia.—AFP/File
File photo shows fire-fighters trying to control the blaze at the garment factory in Baldia.—AFP/File

KARACHI: The Baldia Town factory inferno case took a dramatic turn on Friday when a report by Rangers claimed that the Muttahida Qaumi Movement was behind the deadly fire that claimed the lives of at least 258 factory workers.

The report prepared by a joint investigation team (JIT) was submitted to the Sindh High Court by an additional attorney general, along with a statement of the deputy assistant judge advocate general of Rangers, Major Ashfaque Ahmed.

Also read: Baldia factory fire: Victim families’ hope for justice fading away

The statement said the information had been disclosed by suspect Mohammad Rizwan Qureshi, an alleged worker of the MQM, on June 22, 2013 during joint investigation of the factory inferno.

Joint Investigation Team report submitted to the Sindh High Court

According to the JIT report, the MQM worker revealed that a “well-known party high official” had demanded Rs200 million as Bhatta (extortion money) though his frontman from Ali Enterprises, the owners of the ill-fated factory, in Aug 2012.

The suspect told the investigators that after the extortion demand one of the factory owners had met the sector in-charge of Baldia Town, Asghar Baig, and informed him about it. He said the sector in-charge and his brother, Majid, had taken the factory owner to MQM’s headquarters Nine-Zero and brought the matter to the knowledge of in-charge of KTC (Karachi Tanzeemi Committee) Hammad Siddiqui and Farooq Saleem.

He said Asghar Baig told the KTC men that the factory owners were party supporters and still they were being asked to pay extortion money. The JIT report quoted the suspect as saying that the sector in-charge and his brother had also exchanged harsh words with Hammad Siddiqui and Farooq Saleem.

Later, the MQM worker said, Hammad Siddiqui had suspended the sector in-charge of Baldia Town, replacing him with the joint sector in-charge, Rehman Bhola. The suspect said the KTC men had ordered Bhola to collect Rs200m as protection money from the factory owners. When the factory owners refused to pay the money, Bhola and his accomplices set the factory on fire by throwing chemical substances, according to the suspect.

He said the CID had raided the house of the suspended sector in-charge and arrested his brother Majid who was later released after the MQM pressurised the factory owners to issue a statement that he was not involved in the incident.

According to the suspect, a former MQM minister got a pre-arrest bail of the factory owners cancelled and a frontman of a party high official took Rs150m from the factory owners for disposal of the case.

The suspect claimed that he had obtained all this information from the former sector in-charge of Baldia Town.

Giving a brief history of the suspect, the JIT report said Rizwan Qureshi was born in 1968. He worked as a mechanic in NLC from 1984 to 1988 and as supervisor in a private company till 1991. He had been jobless from 1991 to 1998 and was then appointed in KMC as sanitary sub-inspector.

The JIT report also contains several other disclosures about the involvement of MQM workers in several criminal cases as well rigging in the 2013 general elections.

A two-judge SHC bench headed by Chief Justice Maqbool Baqar took the JIT report on record and put off the hearing to be later fixed by the court office.

The petitioner’s counsel pointed out that a plea had been made for the replacement of the present investigation officer (IO) and conclusion of the trial in the factory fire case as early as possible.

In its order, the court said: “As regards the change of the IO, we have already appointed Mr Sultan Khawaja [deputy inspector general of police] to supervise the proceedings on behalf of police and would dispose of the present application by directing the trial court to proceed in the matter expeditiously so that the trial may conclude within one year from today.”

Published in Dawn, February 7th, 2015

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