Exiled Pakistani politician Altaf Hussain faces legal fight over London property portfolio

London judge orders halt on property sales by marginalised UK arm of Karachi-based MQM Party

Exiled Pakistani MQM politician faces legal fight over London property portfolio

Exiled Pakistani MQM politician faces legal fight over London property portfolio
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An increasingly bitter leadership struggle over a once-powerful Pakistani political party has spread to London, where its exiled founder is fighting to keep control of a multimillion-pound property portfolio.

Altaf Hussain, who ruled the Muttahida Qaumi Movement with an “iron grip” for more than three decades, is locked in a legal fight at London’s High Court with a rival faction of the party after an acrimonious split in 2016.

The party's break-up led to the Pakistan-based wing renouncing Mr Hussain’s long-standing leadership.

The group is now pursuing him and five others, and a property company, for the return of five homes and an office block. It is also seeking details of other assets around the world.

A group of defendants led by Mr Hussain, 67, has dismissed the new party as an “imposter”.

They say the six properties in the dispute have nothing to do with MQM Pakistan, which was established after the split.

One of the properties is a substantial house in an upmarket street of north London that has been Mr Hussain’s home for the past two decades.

Sales data suggest that the house, bought for £1.02 million ($1.33m) in 2001, is now worth more than £3m.

The house is protected by padlocked gates, security cameras and a manned guardroom on the front driveway.

MQM Pakistan claims Mr Hussain has lived there rent-free.

Founder of Pakistan's MQM party, Altaf Hussain, reacts during an interview at the party's offices in London, Britain October 30, 2016. Picture taken October 30, 2016.  REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
Founder of Pakistan's MQM party, Altaf Hussain, led the party for more than three decades. Reuters  

Officials at the property said he was unavailable to speak about the legal dispute. He is said to be suffering from serious health problems.

The charismatic Mr Hussain founded the party in the 1980s to represent Muslim migrants, who fled from India to Pakistan after partition, and their descendants.

He claimed asylum in the UK in the early 1990s after a crackdown on the party and threats to his life.

Mr Hussain continued to run the operation from London and was “revered as its founder,” court papers say. He secured British citizenship in 2001.

In its heyday, the party was the third largest in Pakistan and had a tight political grip on its power base in Karachi, even though it was run from an office block in north-west London.

It draws its support from working-class, Urdu-speaking Muslims.

MQM Pakistan won seven seats in the 342-member National Assembly in 2018 elections after the split and became part of the ruling coalition.

But the London-based organisation boycotted the elections and suffered financial problems after the schism.

Its former headquarters in Edgware, north-west London, have been empty for a year.

“It’s been cleared out and there are only a couple of old chairs lying around up there,” a member of staff said.

A London judge has halted sales of six properties linked to the MQM Party including the home of its founder Altaf Hussain. Georgina Stubbs/The National
A London judge has halted sales of six properties linked to the MQM Party including the home of its founder Altaf Hussain. Georgina Stubbs/The National

Security officers said MQM staff were seen only when they came to show estate agents around the property.

The legal battle was triggered after MQM Pakistan found the office was being sold and marketed for £900,000, legal papers show.

Judge Peter Knox last week ordered that the five houses and the office block should not be sold while the legal dispute continues. Mr Knox described relations as “extremely fraught”.

The properties all lie within a 10-minute drive of the party’s former headquarters, and include four homes.

Residents of two of the properties declined to comment about the continuing court battle.

One of the homes in a quiet residential street, bought most recently in 2005 for £560,000, was repossessed last year after the tenants failed to pay rent of nearly £40,000.

The MQM split followed a speech by Mr Hussain from London that was broadcast in Pakistan.

It was followed by riots, in which at least one person died, and a government crackdown on the party.

The MQM founder was charged by police in London with encouraging terrorism in relation to the speech.

Mr Hussain, who denies the charge, is due to stand trial in May next year.

After the speech, he issued a statement in which he apologised and was reported to have handed over control of the party.

He has since claimed he only made the statement because he thought it was a temporary split.

He said it was in response to “extreme pressure” placed on the Pakistan-based membership by the military.