Muttahidda Qaumi Movement (MQM) Chief Altaf Hussain was arrested on Tuesday in London on charges of money laundering but his party has denied that any arrest had happened. Karachi and interior Sindh areas descended into chaos and panic, bringing all routine activities to a standstill. At least nine vehicles including two buses wee torched in Karachi. Moreover, the Karachi Stock Exchange (KSE-100 index) fell 780 points immediately after the news came and commercial centres across Sindh’s provincial capital started to shut down.
The London Metropolitan police confirmed that a 60-year-old man had been arrested from a North-West London property on charges of money-laundering, but they declined to disclose the exact identity for “legal reasons”.
The police said a Specialist Operations unit was currently carrying out a search operation at the property in northwest London. The Scotland Yard quoted as saying that the investigation would continue for 24 hours.
Moreover, London police has said that an audio-video statement has been recorded of the arrested man.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the British High Commission said that the UK’s consulate in Karachi has been temporarily closed down.
“We deployed extra security at the British High Commission in the southern part of Karachi as soon we learnt about Altaf Hussain’s arrest in London through media,” Deputy Inspector General Abdul Khalique Shaikh told media.
“We have increased police patrolling and we are making further deployments at sensitive spots in the city,” he added.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that the issue of Hussain’s arrest was of an extremely sensitive nature, adding that the government would take all legal angles into account.
The premier has directed parliamentarians and members of the PML-N not to comment on the news.
Meanwhile, addressing media representatives via telephone from London, MQM’s Nadeem Nusrat said that Altaf Hussain was at his residence and in touch with Nusrat.
The MQM leader said that Altaf Hussain had been ill for some time, saying that he was scheduled to be shifted to a hospital on Tuesday when the police arrived at his residence.
Nusrat advised all party members inside and outside Pakistan to control their emotions and not do anything that may go against the teachings of their leader. Nusrat insisted that Altaf Hussain was not under arrest but at home.
Meanwhile, within minutes of his arrest, panicked shop-keepers and market stall owners rushed to close their businesses for fear of violence, residents said.
According to private TV channel, unknown persons had taken to the streets and the city was in a state of frenzy with a number of neighbourhoods experiencing traffic jams.Three people were injured in firing in Baldia Town, Gulshan-i-Iqbal and Natha Khan areas. Three buses and a dozen cars were also set alight in Shafiq Mor and Gulshan-i-Iqbal.
Moreover, the Karachi Stock Exchange (KSE-100 index) fell 780 points immediately after the news came and commercial centres across Sindh’s provincial capital started to shut down.
In the wake of the frenzy engulfing the city, the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) demanded that the provincial capital be handed under military control, adding that if the government failed to establish peace in the next 24 hours, a strike will be held.
Hussain’s supporters gathered outside the party’s headquarters, Nine Zero, chanting slogans in favour of Altaf Hussain.
They said they would continue protesting until Altaf Hussain was freed.
Altaf Hussain was being investigated for money laundering worth at least 400,000 pounds as well as for incitement to violence and MQM leader Dr Imran Farooq’s murder.
MQM leader Farogh Naseem however said that Hussain had not been arrested and Scotland Yard only needed him for a statement in relation to a case.
Last week, senior MQM leader Farooq Sattar had disclosed at a public meeting that Altaf Hussain’s bank accounts in London were being frozen and had asked party workers and supporters to continue their ‘peaceful struggle’ against the British government.
Altaf Hussain, who has been living in London for over two decades and is now a British citizen, did not address that meeting held to condemn money-laundering investigations against him by UK authorities.
Speaking to media, London-based journalist Farooq Shah said Altaf Hussain had been arrested and the police was searching his house.
He added that the British High Commission had told the Pakistani government that if they take action against Altaf Hussain, it would be with full evidence.
Shah moreover said that if proven guilty for committing a crime in the UK, the guilty person would not be able to leave the country and would be penalized in Great Britain only.
He, however, insisted that evidence against the accused must be strong enough to merit action.
Jaffer Rizvi of the BBC said if people arrest someone, it’s a long process. They may even have arrested him for a statement only and may let him go after 24 hours.
He said he is trying to find out if Altaf Hussain was called for a statement only or if he had indeed been arrested.
Rizvi said the police hadn’t named Altaf Hussain and had only said that a 60-year-old man had been arrested.
He said the police in London must have strong evidence on Hussain, adding that the development would have a strong impact on Pakistan’s politics and economy.
It is pertinent to mention here that in July 2013, the London Metropolitan Police had confirmed that investigations against Altaf Hussain had been initiated on charges of money laundering and incitement to violence.
The Metropolitan Police had confirmed that ‘a considerable amount of money’ had been found during raids on Altaf Hussain’s residence and office in London.
The reply had said that the cash was found when a counter-terrorism unit of police raided Hussain’s office on December 6, 2012 under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act in connection with the investigation of Dr Imran Farooq murder case.Police had at the time said that the money was seized under the Proceeds of Crime Act.