The special public prosecutor, representing the Sindh Rangers in the Baldia factory fire case, told an antiterrorism court in Karachi on Monday that the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leaders had pressured police to halt investigations into the incident a week after the deadly inferno.
It was unearthed within a week that the Baldia factory fire was a deliberate act of arson instead of an accident, but the police high-ups changed the first investigating officer allegedly under pressure from the MQM, special public prosecutor Sajid Mehboob Shaikh informed the ATC.
He took this stance while initiating final arguments before the ATC-VII judge, who is conducting the trial in the judicial complex inside the central prison.
More than 260 workers were burnt alive in the multi-storey building of the Ali Enterprises garment factory on September 11, 2012.
Nine accused — including MQM lawmaker and then provincial minister for commerce and industries Rauf Siddiqui, then MQM sector-in-charge Abdul Rehman alias Bhola and Zubair alias Chariya — have been charged with allegedly setting ablaze the ill-fated industrial unit with the help of its four gatekeepers — Shahrukh Latif, Fazal Ahmed, Arshad Mehmood and Ali Mohammad.
Prosecutor Shaikh referred to the testimonies of around 370 prosecution witnesses, including the first investigation officer of the case, Inspector Zafar Iqbal, and said the police's initial stance that an electric short-circuit had caused the fire in the factory was wrong.
IO Iqbal was assigned the investigation of the case a day after the incident, who then visited the site and recorded statements of the eyewitnesses, the prosecutor said.
He added that within a week, the IO had unearthed that the factory was deliberately set on fire and that accused Zubair alias Chariya was seen at the factory on the day of the incident and he set the factory on fire along with his accomplices.
The officer also raided Chariya’s house to arrest him and a day later, the investigation was taken back from him and assigned to another officer, the prosecutor said, quoting the statement of IO Iqbal.
The IO had testified that the investigation was withdrawn from him by the police high-ups due to alleged pressure from the leadership of the MQM, the prosecutor added.
After partially recording his statement, the judge fixed the matter for February 14 to further record the prosecutor’s testimony.