KARACHI: Seven years after the deadly Baldia factory fire that killed more than 250 workers, Arshad Bhaila, one the owners of the garment factory, accused a Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) lawmaker and six others persons, who allegedly planned and set the production unit on fire over non-payment of ‘protection money’ – extortion of its type.
While recording his statement from the Pakistan consulate in Dubai through video link, Bhaila testified before an anti-terrorism court that the fire in the factory was “an act of terrorism” intentionally carried out by the accused persons on the instructions of the MQM leadership.
On July 23, a trial court had allowed factory owners, Arshad Bhaila and Shahid Bhaila, to record their testimony via video link from Dubai Consulate of Pakistan and directed the prosecutor to made arrangements for the video link and the time of the statement.
On Thursday, the anti-terrorism judge, who is conducting the trial in the case, took up the matter to record their statements, when the special public prosecutor moved an application stating that the prosecution had given up witness Shahid and, instead, sought to record the statement of his brother, Arshad.
Two detained accused — then sector in-charge Abdul Rehman, alias Bhola, and Zubair, alias Chariya — were produced from prison. The MQM lawmaker, the then provincial minister for industries, Rauf Siddiqui, gatekeepers of the factory Shahrukh Latif, Fazal Ahmed, Arshad Mehmood and Ali Mohammad appeared on bail.
Hyderabad-based business persons, Ali Hasan Qadri and Abdul Sattar Khan, who have been booked for purportedly using Rs50.9m allegedly extorted from the factory owners on the pretext of compensation for the victims, also appeared on bail.
At the outset, the judge put the accused persons before witness Arshad Bhaila for the purpose of identification through the video link.
The witness rightly picked out Abdul Rehman Bhola, Zubair Chariya and the four factory gatekeepers as the accused persons.
However, Bhaila deposed that he had seen Rauf Siddiqui through the media, but neither had met him nor Qadri or Dr Abdul Sattar.