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Bangladesh presses charges against disaster factory owner

Bangladesh's anti-graft agency said on Tuesday it would press charges against the owner of a collapsed factory complex for his role in the disaster that killed more than 1,100 people last year.

DHAKA: Bangladesh's anti-graft agency said on Tuesday it would press charges against the owner of a collapsed factory complex for his role in the disaster that killed more than 1,100 people last year.

The decision marked a u-turn by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), which last month filed cases against 17 others for "illegally" transforming a planned six-storey shopping mall into the nine-storey garment factory complex.

The Rana Plaza building on the outskirts of the capital Dhaka collapsed on April 24 last year, killing 1,138 people, injuring more than 2,000 and highlighting appalling safety problems in Bangladesh's US$22 billion garment industry.

Sohel Rana, one of the building's owners who is facing murder charges, was left out of the ACC's preliminary charges, triggering huge outrage amongst rights groups and labour unions.

But ACC spokesman Pranab Bhattacharjee said that decision had been reversed following "further investigation into the case".

"We've now got evidences that Sohel Rana was involved in the crime," Bhattacharjee told AFP.

A charge sheet naming Rana will be submitted to an anti-graft court next week ahead of a trial, Bhattacharjee said.

Rana and the 17 others accused now face a maximum seven years in jail for violating the construction code and "abusing power" to approve the building illegally, Bhattacharjee said.

The ACC said Rana was left off the list last month as his name did not appear in any of the papers related to the building's ownership or its construction approval.

His parents, who are the co-owners of the building, were instead charged as their names were found in the legal documents.

Garment manufacturers, architects, engineers and local government officials who approved the construction are also facing charges.

Rana, who was hunted down from border days after the tragedy as he tried to flee to India, has been named a key defendant in a separate murder case stemming from the disaster. Murder is punishable by death in Bangladesh.

Police said Rana, a former ruling party official, forced thousands of workers to return to shift despite big cracks that had appeared in the factory walls.

The disaster shamed Western brands into launching new safety inspections and pushed Bangladesh's government to boost wages and regulations in the nation's garment industry, the world's second largest after China.

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