KARACHI: Almost 20 months after his arrest and subsequent bail in a money laundering probe in London, Muttahida Qaumi Movement chief Altaf Hussain received an unexpected respite on Monday when the Metropolitan Police Service informed him that his bail conditions had been removed as there was insufficient evidence to bring a criminal charge against him.

Mr Hussain’s police bail was extended for a fifth time on Oct 5, 2015, since his June 3, 2014, arrest in London and, according to an MQM statement issued on Monday, he was due to “return to a South London police station on Tuesday as part of an ongoing investigation into allegations of money laundering”.

But a few hours after the release of the statement mentioned above, the party issued another statement claiming that the police had sent a “bail cancellation notice” to Mr Hussain as well as two senior London-based MQM leaders — Muhammad Anwar and Tariq Mir — informing them that “there is no need for any of you to attend the police station” and that “the bail conditions currently in place are therefore removed”.

The notice, according to the statement, stated that “at the time of writing there is insufficient evidence to bring a criminal charge”.

Metropolitan Police tell MQM chief not enough evidence exists against him in money laundering probe

An MQM source, who is aware of the legality of the matter, told Dawn that the British investigators would continue to investigate the money-laundering allegations and the money seized during raids on two MQM properties would not be returned immediately.

The source explained that the cancellation of police bail meant that there would be no restriction on Mr Hussain’s international travel and he would not be bound to appear before investigators until they got any fresh evidence.

MQM leader Wasay Jalil, who is currently in London, confirmed to Dawn that Mr Hussain’s passport would be returned to him. About the seized amount of money, he said: “Our lawyers will update us in a day or two regarding the seized cash.”

The news sparked widespread celebrations at the MQM’s Nine Zero headquarters in Karachi as scores of workers and supporters gathered there and danced to the tunes of party songs.

Social media was also abuzz with the news and hashtag #AltafWinsAgain became top Twitter trend in Pakistan by the evening.

“We were prepared for the worst,” said a senior MQM leader, referring to a possibility that the investigators could have charged Mr Hussain in his Tuesday’s appearance. “But it was a collective decision that we would not seek an extension in bail and contest all charges, if filed, legally.”

Only on Saturday, Mr Hussain had formed a nine-member supreme council so that it would lead the party in case of his “sudden unavailability”.

The money laundering investigation was launched after the Metropolitan Police discovered hundreds of thousands of pounds during two raids — one on an MQM office and another on Mr Hussain’s residence in London. The raids were conducted in connection with the investigation into Dr Imran Farooq’s murder.

Meanwhile, Mr Hussain said in a statement that he was relieved that the Metropolitan Police decided to cancel his police bail. “I continue to deny any involvement in money laundering and would like to thank my millions of members and followers around the world for their ongoing support,” he said.

Published in Dawn, February 2nd, 2016