DHAKA – The head of an official inquiry into the deadly collapse of a Bangladesh factory complex said the building’s owner was the “main culprit” for the disaster because he violated construction codes.
The cave-in of the eight-story Rana Plaza outside the capital last month killed more than 1,100 workers in the country’s worst industrial disaster.
“He (owner Sohel Rana) is the main culprit and because of him 1,127 people have died,” Khandker Mainuddin Ahmed, head of the government-appointed probe into the April 24 tragedy, said Wednesday.
“He became rich with black money and started defying all laws and regulations. He is the by-product of our rotten politics and represents the decadent part of our society. He was a terror personified,” he said.
Ahmed said the panel has asked the government to prosecute Rana, an official in the ruling Awami League, for “culpable homicide,” which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
“He defied building codes, used substandard construction materials and failed to follow specifications,” Ahmed told reporters before submitting a 400-page report to the government on the plant’s collapse. “The owner used extremely poor quality iron rods and cement. There were a series of irregularities.”
More than 2,500 people were rescued shortly after the disaster. The committee urged the government to ensure that all of those injured receive free medical treatment.
The report comes days ahead of a visit to Bangladesh by a U.S. government team to press for a major overhaul of factory safety rules. The disaster has focused global attention on the appalling safety standards in the nation’s 4,500 garment plants.
The panel said Rana ignored construction codes by converting the originally planned six-story building, meant for a shopping mall and commercial space, into an eight-story factory complex where more than 3,000 laborers toiled. Authorities earlier said the owner had permission to build a five-story structure and added three floors illegally.
The committee, which included police and fire officials, recommended the owners of the five factories based in the building also be prosecuted for culpable homicide.
Khandaker said Rana, who is believed to be around 30, and the factory owners — four of whom have been arrested — forced employees to go to work April 24 despite cracks that had appeared in the building the day before. “They threatened the workers that they would be fired and that their salaries would be cut if they refused to go to work,” he said.
The report also said the building was not built for industrial use and the weight and vibrations of the heavy garment factory machinery and generators on the upper floors, installed in defiance of building regulations, combined with other machinery to trigger the collapse.
According to the report, the ground on which the building was built was not fit for a multistory building. “A portion of the building was constructed on land which had been a body of water before and was filled with rubbish,” Ahmed said.
Police have arrested 12 people, including three engineers, over the disaster.