Bangladesh: Rana Plaza Owner, 40 Others Charged With Murder

By BenarNews Staff
150601-BD-Rana-620 Police take Bangladeshi property tycoon Sohel Rana (in helmet and body armor) to the Dhaka High Court, April 30, 2013.

Bangladeshi authorities Monday brought murder charges against 41 people, including the owner of the Rana Plaza complex and 12 government officials, in the case of a garment factory collapse that killed more than 1,100 people two years ago.

If convicted, property tycoon and Rana Plaza owner Sohel Rana and his 40 fellow defendants could be put to death for their alleged roles in Bangladesh’s deadliest industrial accident to date, law enforcement officials said.

“If we can prove before the court that they were responsible for the collapse and the deaths of more than a thousand workers, they will be sentenced to death,” Additional Public Prosecutor Anwarul Kabir Babul told BenarNews.

As many as 1,135 people – mostly garment factory workers – were killed and around 2,000 more injured in the collapse of the multi-story building that housed five factories in Savar, near Dhaka.

"It is the biggest industrial disaster in Bangladesh's history. And all 41 of them have collective responsibility for this mass killing of more than 1,100 innocent people," Agence France-Presse quoted Bijoy Krishna Kar, a lead detective on the case, as saying.

The tragedy focused international attention on unsafe and exploitative working conditions at Bangladesh's 3,500 garment factories, and forced global retailers to address structural and environmental deficiencies in Bangladesh's garment sector.

The industry employs nearly three million people, most of whom are women.

Upgrading the charges

Apart from Rana, six factory owners – including his parents, who co-owned the structure – and a dozen officials who were responsible for building safety and inspections, were charged with murder, as were the mayor of Savar and a town councilor, AFP reported.

After six government officials absconded, police asked a court to issue warrants for their arrests, according to AFP.

Rana was arrested just days after the building collapsed on April 24, 2013. He was caught on the Indo-Bangladesh border as he allegedly tried to escape.

According to the Associated Press, investigators initially had looked to press lesser charges of culpable homicide against the defendants, but they later decided to pursue murder charges against the 41.

Culpable homicide does not carry a potential death penalty and the maximum sentence is seven years, AP reported, noting that the police report described the deadly collapse and the factors that caused it as a “mass killing.”

“Investigators said the shift from the culpable homicide charges came after the investigation found that Rana, his staff and the management of the five factories had forced the workers to enter the building despite their unwillingness to work on the day of the accident after the building developed major cracks a day earlier,” AP reported.

‘The seed of this massive disaster’

Authorities are pursuing two tracks against Rana and 17 other defendants, according to AFP.

In addition to the murder charges, the defendants stand accused of blatantly disregarding building construction rules.

Rana and the others violated building code by adding three floors to a structure whose design had only been cleared for the construction of six stories, investigators allege.

"Rana Plaza was built flouting construction rules and it was extended without proper structural changes. And when it was turned into a factory complex, it was loaded with heavy machinery such as a generator. No wonder the building collapsed," Kar said, according to AFP.

"That illegal extension violating all construction (regulations) was the seed of this massive disaster."

Shahriar Sharif contributed to this report.


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