LONDON: The trial pivoted on the ownership of multiple north London properties concluded on Thursday evening, marking the end of a series of hearings which saw Muttahida Qaumi Movement supremo Altaf Hussain battle it out with MQM factions over who is the MQM’s true leader.

The trial opened at the end of November last year, and saw the MQM supremo come face-to-face with ex-loyalists now with MQM-Pakistan who are laying a claim to seven properties to the tune of GBP10 million.

The case was brought by MQM-P leader and Federal Minister Syed Aminul Haque, former convener of the Altaf-led MQM Nadeem Nusrat and ex-confidante Tariq Mir.

The MQM split into two factions: MQM-London and MQM-Pakistan, in August 2016, after a speech made by Mr Hussain triggered violence in Karachi. Earlier, a group led by former Karachi mayor Mustafa Kamal had already separated to form the Pak Sarzameen Party in March 2016.

A new constitution disassociating Mr Hussain was then created by MQM-P, which the claimants are relying on for the possession of the London properties.

At a hearing on Thursday, Mr Hussain appeared at the high court where lawyers for both sides presented final arguments, recapping events and laying their claim to the properties in question after back-and-forth arguments.

Barrister Nazar Mohammad representing the claimants made his arguments first, saying that MQM-P is the true leadership of the party and therefore has a beneficial ownership to the London properties. He presented evidence and said MQM-P leaders are the ultimate successors, heavily relying on the new 2016 constitution.

Mr Hussain’s counsel Richard Slate presented his final arguments, saying that every constitution from 1984 onwards states Mr Hussain as the party’s founder, leader and higher authority.

He said both the 2015 and 2016 constitutions bound the Rabita Committee to seek guidance from Mr Hussain on major issues, and said the constitutional amendments made on 31 August 2016 by now MQM-P leaders were invalid. He questioned how a founder leader can be removed from a party and its constitution without having changes approved by him.

Richard Slate read out, as part of evidence, a story published in Dawn on August 26, 2016, in which then adviser to the PM Musadiq Malik said that “MQM had to disassociate from Altaf or suffer consequences”. Mr Slate relied on this clip to show that the ex-loyalists changed the constitution not out of their free will but under pressure.

The two sides argued back-and-forth to assert their right over the party’s assets. MQM-P’s lawyer admitted that the email address which contained email evidence was inaccessible, and said that perhaps it was hacked by the defendants.

The claimant’s lawyer responded saying that, being Pakistan’s IT minister, Mr Aminul Haque should have figured out a way to access the emails to present as evidence.

After hearing both sides, the judge said the trial was adjourned and that he would release a detailed verdict and judgement in the coming weeks.

In a previous hearing, when grilled by the counsel for MQM-Pakistan, the MQM chief asserted his command over the party and addressed the question of who was in control. Mr Hussain explained how he was the ultimate decision-maker, and that the party revolved around his remote-control and final say from London.

He said MQM-Pakistan was a breakaway faction, and that it was created under pressure by the state to break the MQM’s vote bank and support. Mr Hussain said that though he wasn’t involved in the smaller issues, the overall control and leadership was widely understood to rest with him.

Mr Hussain also said that after his August 2016 speech, he gave authority to Mr Farooq Sattar to manage party decisions, but that by no means meant that a new party had been formed.

He reiterated that he remained the true founder, leader and decision-maker of the MQM today, despite the fact that Azeem Tariq was made chairman.

Published in Dawn, January 27th, 2023

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