KARACHI: After five long years, an anti-terrorism court (ATC) indicted on Wednesday Muttahida Qaumi Movement – Pakistan (MQM-P) lawmaker Rauf Siddiqui, a former sector incharge and others in the Baldia factory fire case.
Rauf, former MQM sector incharge Abdul Rehman alias Bhola, Zubair alias Charya, Abdul Sattar Khan, Umar Hassan Kadri, Iqbal Adeeb Khanum and four gatekeepers of ill-fated industrial unit – Shahrukh, Fazal Ahmed, Arshad Mehmood and Ali Mohammad – have been booked for their alleged involvement in the tragic incident.
Over 250 workers were burnt alive when the multi-storey garment factory building was set on fire in Baldia Town in September, 2012.
On Wednesday, the judge formally framed charges against the accused.
The ATC-VII judge, who is conducting the trial at the judicial complex inside Central Jail, Karachi, read out the charges against the accused persons. However, the accused pleaded not guilty and opted to contest the case. Therefore, the court directed the prosecution to produce its witnesses for recording their evidence on Saturday, February 17.
The court has already declared the then chief of the MQM organising committee Hammad Sidd¬iq¬ui and Ali Hasan Kadri as proclaimed offenders, after investigators said they could not be tracked down.
Bhola was arrested with the cooperation of Interpol in Thailand, while Hammad was caught in Dubai.
According to the prosecution, Bhola, during interrogation as well as before a magistrate, had disclosed that he along with Zubair and others had set fire to the factory on the instructions of then chief of the MQM organising committee Hammad because the factory owners had refused to pay the demanded ‘protection money’.
Bhola also alleged that after the incident, Rauf allegedly got a case registered against the owners of the industrial unit. Later, Bhola said he came to know that Rauf and Hammad had received Rs40 million to Rs50 million from the owners to tone down the case against them. In December 2017 he retracted his statement, claiming that he did not record any statement under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. He also claimed that the authorities had forced him to confess his involvement in the case. An ATC later dismissed his bail plea.
The SHC dismissed another appeal filed by Zubair in January, also requesting bail in the case.
In the case, the Kadri brothers and two others were booked for allegedly using the money extorted from the owners of the Ali Enterprises on the pretext of compensation for victims while the gatekeepers were accused of allegedly locking the exit points.
Initially, the police had charge-sheeted the owners – Abdul Aziz Bhaila and his sons Arshad and Shahid – as well as some employees of ill-fated industrial unit in the tragic incident. However, reinvestigation of the case was ordered in March, 2016 through a joint investigation team after an earlier JIT report, which was submitted in the Sindh High Court in February, 2015, revealed that the factory was set on fire after its owners failed to pay the ‘protection money’.