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KARACHI: An antiterrorism court (ATC) on Saturday declared the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan lawmaker Rauf Siddiqui as an accused in the Baldia factory fire case and directed him to face the trial.

The ATC-VII judge passed the directive on an application moved by the prosecution, asking the court to declare the MPA as an accused and direct him to face charges before the court with other accused. The case was heard at the judicial complex inside the central prison.

Special Public Prosecutor Sajid Mehmood Shaikh had filed the application and argued that police had not charged the lawmaker and placed his name in column two of the charge sheet in blue ink, which signified lack of evidence.

Although, he argued, there was sufficient evidence to connect him with the crime and maintained that apart from Abdul Rehman and Hammad Siddiqui, names of all other suspects were also put in column two on identical grounds but the court took its notice and declared them as accused after finding ample evidence available against them.

Defence lawyer Shaukat Hayat opposed the application and argued that there was no evidence against the MPA, adding that he could not be implicated merely on the basis of hearsay and unverifiable remarks of a co-suspect.

He also questioned maintainability of the application and contended that the supplementary charge sheet had already been admitted by the administrative judge of ATCs and the trial court had also allowed the applicant to withdraw his bail application after police said no evidence was found against the lawmaker.

The name of Mr Siddiqui first surfaced in the case in December 2016 when former MQM sector-in-charge Abdul Rehman, alias Bhola, alleged in his confessional statement before a judicial magistrate that the MPA, who was then provincial minister for industries and commerce, got a case registered against the owners of the factory.

Then, the suspect said, he came to know that the lawmaker and former head of MQM’s Karachi Tanzeemi Committee Hammad Siddiqui had received Rs40 million to Rs50 million from the owners in return for toning down the case against them. Afterwards, the MPA obtained pre-arrest bail.

In January 2017, the investigating officer (IO) in the case filed a supplementary charge sheet against Abdul Rehman but did nothing about Mr Siddiqui.

When the judge asked about the status of the lawmaker, the prosecutor informed the court that MQM MPA had been on bail and he had not joined the investigation.

Subsequently, the court asked the MPA to join the investigation and directed the IO to file a report after questioning the suspect.

In April 2017, the IO came up with the second supplementary charge sheet and said the MPA was not named as accused and placed the names of Mr Siddiqui and four employees of the ill-fated industrial unit in column two of the charge sheet in blue ink, stating that incriminating evidence was not found against them.

He added that the MPA had joined the investigation and denied all the allegations. Thereafter, Mr Siddiqui had withdrawn his bail application.

Initially, names of owner of the ill-fated industrial unit Abdul Aziz Bhaila and his two sons, Arshad Bhaila and Shahid Bhaila, general manager Mansoor and three gatekeepers were put in the charge sheet for their alleged negligence.

Things took a dramatic turn in February 2015 after reinvestigation of the case was ordered and Pakistan Rangers submitted the report of a joint investigation team, which had been formed to quiz the suspect Rizwan Qureshi among others, to the Sindh High Court. It had revealed that the factory was set on fire because its owners had failed to pay protection money.

According to the last supplementary report, sector head of Baldia Town Abdul Rehman was brought back with the help of Interpol after his arrest in Bangkok in 2016.

Bhola said in his confessional statement before a judicial magistrate that he with detained suspect Zubair alias Charya and others set the factory on fire on the instructions of Hammad Siddiqui as the factory owners had refused to pay the demanded protection money and ‘partnership’ in business.

The IO had declared Hammad Siddiqui as an absconder in the case. Two Hyderabad-based businessmen brothers, Ali Hassan Qadri and Umer Hassan Qadri, and some others have also been booked purportedly for using the money allegedly extorted from the factory owners in the name of compensation for the fire victims.

Mr Siddiqui, however, said in a statement that he was innocent and would challenge the ATC order in Sindh High Court.

Published in Dawn, January 7th, 2018