Rehman Bhola warned of 'consequences' if Baldia factory didn't pay Rs250m extortion: witness tells ATC
A former manager of the M/s Ali Enterprises on Tuesday told an anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Karachi that Abdul Rehman alias Bhola had warned him that there would be "consequences" if the garments factory failed to pay Rs250 million in extortion money.
The Rangers special public prosecutor, Sajid Mehbood Shaikh, had produced two witnesses for recording their statements before the ATC-VI judge in the 2012 Baldia factory fire case today: a former manager of M/s Ali Enterprises and a judicial magistrate.
The first witness testified that he used to work as a manager at the M/s Ali Enterprises in July 2012 when Rehman — who was the then in-charge of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement's Baldia Town sector — and Majid Baig visited the factory and also met with its owners.
He said the factory owners later told him that Rehman had demanded Rs250m extortion and a share in the business allegedly on behalf of the then head of MQM's Karachi Tanzeemi Committee, Hammad Siddiqui.
The witness said that since he used to handle the matters related to the MQM and because a majority of the factory workers were activists of the party, the owners asked him to settle the matter with Rehman and offered to pay Rs10m extortion.
The witness said that he met Rehman and made the factory owners' offer, but Rehman allegedly said that he would not accept an amount less than Rs250m or else the factory owners would face consequences.
Another witness, a judicial magistrate, also recorded his statement before the court.
The witness deposed that he was posted as a judicial magistrate and had recorded the statements of two prosecution witnesses in the present case — including the above-mentioned factory manager and another witness, Majid Baig — under Section 164 of the criminal procedure code on a request of the investigating officer of the case.
Later, the defence counsel for the accused Rehman, Zubair alias Chariya and others cross-examined both the witnesses.
They contended that there were glaring contradictions in the statements the factory manager had recorded before the police under Section 161 and then before the judicial magistrate under Section 164 of the CrPC.
They further argued that the testimony of the factory's manager could not be considered under the law since he himself was arrested in the present case and had remained in jail for months until he was released on bail.
The lawyers also pointed out that the statement of the judicial magistrate was being recorded for the second time in the case.
After recording the two statements today, the judge summoned other witnesses on April 11.
At least 250 factory workers were burnt alive in what was the worst industrial inferno in the country in several decades. Subsequent investigations suggested that the factory was put on fire over an issue of extortion money. Nine accused including MQM lawmaker Rauf Siddiqui, Rehman alias Bhola and Zubair alias Chariya have been charged with setting ablaze the garments factory in Baldia Town on September 11, 2012.
According to the prosecution, the accused allegedly acted on the instructions of Hammad Siddiqui to set the factory on fire after its owners did not pay the protection money.
Initially, police had released Zubair citing lack of evidence against him but he was once again arrested after Rehman implicated him in a statement recorded before a joint investigation team, disclosing that he carried out the task of setting ablaze the factory through Zubair and some others.