The Rangers have placed the blame of the Baldia factory fire on the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) in a report submitted to the Sindh High Court (SHC) on Friday.
They claimed that some members of the party were linked to the deadly fire which left more than 259 men and women dead on September 11, 2012.
In the report submitted to a division bench of the SHC hearing identical petitions seeking a judicial inquiry into the incident, law enforcers claimed that they had arrested a man in connection to the industrial fire and during the interrogation he had identified himself as an MQM worker. When contacted, MQM leaders and office-bearers were unavailable for comments. On January 13, while hearing the petitions filed by the Pakistan Industrial Labour Education Research, Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum and others, the bench ordered DIG Sultan Khwaja to submit a report of the investigations. The bench also issued notices to the heads of the intelligence and law enforcement agencies to submit their report on the incident.
In response to the court's notice, the additional attorney-general Salman Salibuddin filed classified reports from the deputy assistant judge advocate general of the Pakistan Rangers, which was taken on record by the judges. This means that the report is now public property. The report claimed that the accused, Rizwan Siddiqui, son of Sheikh Iqbaluddin Qureshi, was arrested by the district South police in connection with the fire following an FIR No 61/2013 registered under Sections 23 (1)A of the Sindh Arms Act at the Artillery Maidan police station.
A joint investigation team (JIT) headed by SSP South and men from the police, Inter- Services Intelligence, Intelligence Bureau, Pakistan Rangers and the Federal Investigation Agency interrogated him on June 22, 2013.
During the interrogation, the accused claimed that a well-known party leader had demanded Rs200 million in extortion via his front man from the owners of Ali Enterprises in August 2012. Following this, the owner met the party's Baldia Town sector in-charge, Asghar Baig, and told him that someone was using the party's name to extort money.
Baig spoke to his brother, Majid, and they took the factory owners to the MQM's headquarters in Azizabad, Nine Zero. They had arranged a meeting with the in-charge of the Karachi Tanzeemi Committee (KTC), Hammad Siddiqui and Farooq Saleem, and told them that the factory owners were party supporters. They also told Hammad and Saleem about the extortion threats.
According to the report, Hammad and Saleem, claimed that the issue was not due to their demand. The suspect told the JIT that the response of the KTC's in-charge upset Baig and his brother who exchanged harsh words with Hammad and Saleem.
A few days later, according to Rizwan, Hammad suspended Baig from his position and replaced him with Rehman Bhola. The report claims that Hammad and Saleem sent Bhola to collect extortion money from the owners of Ali Enterprises on orders from a party official and former minister.
"Rehman Bhola demanded Rs20o million as extortion from the factory owners," stated the report. "When they refused on September 11, 2012, he [Bhola] and his accomplices threw a chemical substance that started the fire at the factory." The report claimed that the next day, the Crime Investigation Department raided Baig and Majid's house and left with Majid in their custody.
Baig's brother was released after the police recorded statements of the factory owners claiming that he was not involved in the incident.
Quoting the accused, the JIT report stated that after receiving orders from a high official in the party, a former minister went to the police station and registered a case against the factory owners. They had arranged for bail before arrest from the SHC but the former minister used his connections to get their bail cancelled.
It was then that a former prime minister stepped in to help the owners and got them a bail from the Lahore High Court instead. MQM leaders claimed, however, that the premier should not intervene in a provincial matter.
The report added that he [Bhola] and an unidentified member of the party took Rs150million to dispose of the case. The accused told the JIT that the information he had shared with them, he had received from the former sector in-charge of Baldia Town.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 7th, 2015.
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