Bangladesh panel to recommend life in prison over building collapse

DHAKA (Reuters) - A committee investigating a deadly collapse of a building housing garment factories in Bangladesh will recommend that nine people detained in connection with the disaster be sentenced to life in prison, the panel's chief said on Tuesday.

The six-member committee, due to submit its conclusions to the government on Thursday, has singled out shoddy construction and the improper issue of building permits as the main reasons for the accident that killed more than 1,100 people.

"We asked the government to give the highest punishment to all the accused as it was nothing but gross negligence of responsibilities for which 1,130 innocent workers were killed," Mr Mainuddin Khandaker, a senior Interior Ministry official, told Reuters.

A life sentence handed down in Bangladeshi courts generally means a 30-year prison term. The accident has sparked campaigns in the West to improve safety standards at plants supplying major fashion brands.

The owner of the Rana Plaza building, Mohammed Sohel Rana, was arrested after a four-day hunt as he appeared to be fleeing to neighbouring India.

Also in custody are Rana's father, the owners of most of the factories in the complex, as well as engineers and officials who approved the building permits for the eight-storey complex in the Dhaka suburb of Savar.

"The construction materials were substandard and under specifications," Mr Khandaker said, referring to the ratio of sand and cement used in construction.

Relatives of the dead have filed murder complaints against Rana and others in detention. Rana, a leader of the ruling Awami League's youth front, appeared in court this month before a crowd of protesters demanding that he be hanged.

Also serving on the government-appointed committee are the Dhaka district police chief, a senior industrial police officer, a top factory inspector and two other senior officials.

The accident was the world's deadliest industrial disaster since the Bhopal gas leak accident in India in 1984.

There were about 3,000 people inside the complex, which was built on a swamp, when it collapsed. Rescue work went on for more than two weeks.

The committee will also recommend selling the land on which the Rana Plaza was built to create a fund to help victims and relatives. It will also ask for all factories to be inspected and the findings posted at factory gates.

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