Eighteen suspects were charged Tuesday with violating Bangladesh’s building laws by allegedly colluding to construct the Rana Plaza garment factory complex against code, before it collapsed and killed more than 1,100 people three years ago.
“All of the accused 18 persons including the owner of the building, Sohel Rana, had a role in the construction of the building in violation of Bangladesh’s building code,” prosecutor Anwar Kabir Babul told BenarNews.
“Hearing both the defense and prosecution, the trial court today for the first time framed charges against the 18,” he said, referring to the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s court in Dhaka.
As many as 1,135 people were killed and more than 2,000 were injured in the collapse of Rana Plaza on April 24, 2013 – Bangladesh’s deadliest industrial accident and one of the worst ever worldwide. The building in the Dhaka suburb of Savar housed five factories that produced ready-made garments for world famous brands.
The owner Rana was among 41 charged with murder in June 2015 over the disaster. Some of the others who were charged on Tuesday will face charges in the homicide case as well.
No one has been tried or convicted in the case, but the magistrate’s court on Tuesday set Aug. 23 as a start date for witness depositions.
Quoting the police investigation, Kabir said Rana had permission to construct a six-story building but colluded with town planning officials, engineers and others to add three floors.
Rana’s lawyer challenged the prosecutor’s claim about construction.
“The building violation charge against my client is not true,” lawyer Faruq Ahmed told BenarNews, noting that his clients had permission to go as high as 10 stories.
The court dismissed his claim.
5 of 18 not in custody
Thirteen of the 18 defendants, including the building’s owner, have been in the jail while five others, an engineer, two urban planners and two owners of the construction firm, have absconded.
According to court records, police filed two cases against 42 people, including the building owners, public servants, garment factory owners and some employees. The other case, on homicide charges, has not been filed, according to Babul.
In addition, the Anti-Corruption Commission has filed a corruption case over the collapse.
“In the past, many ready-made garment buildings collapsed, but the offenders were not tried. There has been a culture of impunity in the labor rights violations in Bangladesh,” Sultan Uddin Khan, director of the Bangladesh Institute of Labor Studies, told BenarNews.
The brother of a victim of the disaster is seeking justice.
“Until the politically powerful owners of the building and the public servants are punished, the family members will not sleep well. My slain brother was forced to get into the building that developed cracks,” Abul Bashar, a Dhaka businessman, told BenarNews.