Dhaka court jails owner of collapsed factory for graft

DHAKA • A Bangladesh court yesterday jailed the Rana Plaza owner for three years for graft, the first of many charges laid against him after the garment factory complex collapsed in 2013 and killed more than 1,130 people.

Sohel Rana was given the maximum three-year sentence by a special court in Dhaka for failing to declare his personal wealth to Bangladesh's anti-graft commission, one of a series of charges brought after the disaster.

"This is the first time he has been convicted and jailed," prosecutor Salahuddin Eskander said.

Mr Eskander said Rana, who faces four charges, including murder, for his role in one of the world's worst industrial tragedies, was in court for the verdict.

He and 37 others could be sentenced to death if found guilty of murder over the factory complex's collapse.

But that trial has been delayed by appeals in the higher court.

Rana was arrested just days after the accident at the border with India as he tried to flee Bangladesh.

He became public enemy No. 1 in the aftermath of the disaster as survivors recounted being forced to enter the building to work despite complaining about cracks appearing in the walls.

Rana and 17 others have also been charged with violating building codes when extending the six-storey structure by a further three floors.

Investigators put the blame for the tragedy on the illegal construction.

Rana's lawyer, Mr Faruque Ahmed, said he would appeal against the verdict.

Rana, who was linked with the ruling Awami League party, also faces a narcotics charge.

The Rana Plaza disaster highlighted appalling safety problems in Bangladesh's nearly US$30 billion (S$40.5 billion) garment industry, the world's second-largest exporter after China's.

A host of Western retailers had clothing made at the complex's five factories, including Italy's Benetton, Spain's Mango and the British low-cost chain, Primark.

The disaster prompted sweeping reforms, including new safety inspections and higher wages in the industry, which employs around four million workers, mostly women.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 30, 2017, with the headline 'Dhaka court jails owner of collapsed factory for graft'. Print Edition | Subscribe