Sunday, November 27, 2022
LONDON: MQM founder Altaf Hussain is set for a high-stakes showdown in the British capital at the high court where he will come face-to-face after nearly six years with his former party devotees over a case brought by the breakaway MQM-P to snatch control of seven London properties from the party founder — estimated to be worth over £10 million.
The court battle sees MQM-P leader and Federal Minister Syed Aminul Haque, Voice of Karachi leader Nadeem Nusrat (former convenor of Altaf-led MQM) and Tariq Mir (Altaf’s former confidante) joining hands against their former leader and benefactor in the courtroom for the control of seven expensive properties located in the posh part of North London. Farooq Sattar and Waseem Akhtar will provide live video witness testimony against the party founder.
Haque, on MQM-P's behalf, has brought the case against the Altaf to gain control of the following properties: Abbey View in Mill Hill where Altaf resides; 1 High View Gardens in Edgware which is on rent; 5 High View Gardens (where Iftikhar Hussain lives) in Edgware; 185 Whitchurch Lane in Edgware which is being used by MQM-London; 221 Whitchurch Lane in Edgware; 53 Brookfield Avenue in Mill Hill ) which was sold by Altaf and Mir and the proceeds of the sale are also demanded in this claim) and 1st Floor Elizabeth House in Edgware which used to be the MQM’s International Secretariat.
In the court papers seen by Geo News, Haque (the claimant) had originally brought a case against the defendants Altaf, his brother Iqbal Hussain, Mir, Muhammad Anwar, Iftikhar, Qasim Ali Raza and Euro Property Developments Ltd.
Former MQM Rabita Committee seniors Muhammad Anwar, who passed away last year, and Mir provided an affidavit to MQM-P in support of its claim against Altaf's defence and stepped aside from defending the MQM-P claim.
Haque, in his claim, said that it’s the MQM-P whose “members are the beneficiary of bare trusts and/or resulting constructive trusts” — the structures that control the seven properties and all the benefit derived from the rental income or sale proceeds should have gone to MQM-P to benefit the “poor and needy people”. The MQM-P said this clause of the trust has been violated.
The claimant, on behalf of MQM-P, said that he is seeking for himself and the MQM-P the removal of the trustees under the UK Trustees Act 1925 “for failing to act faithfully and or for the benefit of the beneficiaries and or the trusts at all material times”.
The MQM-P leader is seeking declaratory relief that the seven properties are trust assets and therefore, Altaf and other defendants should be stopped through an injunction from “dealing with and misappropriation of trust funds and assets”; that the rental income of these properties and their ownership should be given to MQM-Pakistan and that Altaf and others should be made liable of costs and the return of all the funds gained through rental income for over two decades, and profit gained by selling various assets.
The stakes for both sides are high. If Altaf loses control of these assets to MQM-P, then he loses it all and this will leave him a skint. If MQM-P loses its claim against Altaf, it will end up paying millions of pounds in legal fees and several other repercussions.
The MQM-P's breakaway faction emerged on August 22, 2016, after a controversial speech by Altaf at a hunger strike camp in Karachi. At that time, the MQM-P was led by Sattar who publicly disassociated himself from the speech of Altaf and announced that he will run the MQM from Pakistan.
He soon announced that MQM-P has made a basic change in the MQM constitution, removing Altaf and changing the name of the party to MQM Pakistan.
Sattar was expelled in 2018 by his own faction and the control was taken over by Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, an ally of Haque. In mid-September 2020, the MQM-P (also known as the MQM Bahadurabad) launched a claim of ownership of Altaf-led MQM’s properties situated in London.
Sources close to Altaf claim — and this is what Altaf's defence in the court will be — that the seven London properties were purchased between 2001-2005 when MQM-P didn’t exist. Altaf’s lawyers will inform the court that the MQM-P never disclosed these properties in their annual assets accounts before the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
The matter is to be heard in two stages. The first stage will be the constitutional fight. Altaf's MQM is relying on a 2015 constitution, but MQM-P disagrees and maintains they have their own constitution.
If the latter is successful, then stage two will be heard which will revolve around the duties of the trustees, where they have used the funds which should have benefited the trusts.
Altaf's supporters have issued an appeal to the Urdu-speaking Muhajir community to pray for his success against those who benefited from the former all their lives and owe everything to him but have let him down.
Altaf denied any misappropriation and said the funds used to buy these properties were given to him by ordinary workers of the party but the MQM-P and others have ganged up against him for material gains.
MQM-P has not publicly commented on the case because of fears that Altaf continues to enjoy significant support amongst the Muhajir communities in Karachi.
A senior MQM-P leader said off the record that Altaf remains popular in the hardcore Muhajir areas and MQM-P leaders are already facing tough questions from the locals.
Mir has taken a neutral position in the dispute but his statement to the court largely favours MQM-P. The case will be heard in two stages and both sides are doing all they can to outdo the other side.
Nusrat, the former convener of MQM and once very close to Altaf, condemned MQM-P after the founder's August 22 speech. However, he left Altaf in 2017, leaving permanently for America where he runs “Voice of Karachi”. In a twist of events, he has joined MQM-P in its claims against Altaf Hussain in this property case.
Last year, the MQM founder was cleared in a criminal case of inciting terrorism from UK soil in Pakistan. The case was brought by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) but it fell apart when the jury found that Altaf was not involved in terrorist acts from London to Pakistan.
Barrister Nazar Mohammad is representing MQM-P in the court; Richard Slade KC is representing Altaf and the co-defendants. The court will take the case up tomorrow.