Bangladesh accuses 17 over disaster factory construction

DHAKA - Bangladesh's anti-graft agency Sunday filed cases against 17 people for "illegally" transforming a planned shopping mall into the garment factory complex which collapsed last year, killing more than 1,100 people.

The Anti-Corruption Commission filed cases against two owners of the nine-storey Rana Plaza in Savar town outside the capital and three garment manufacturers, as well as against architects, engineers and local government officials who approved the construction.

"Rana Plaza was originally approved for a six-storey shopping complex on April 10, 2006 by Savar municipal authorities. But its owners later unlawfully got an approval to transform it into a 10-storey building," commission spokesman Pranab Bhattacharjee told AFP.

"The mayor of Savar, local government officials, architects and the owners did not abide by any of the country's construction rules to extend the floors or transform it into a garment factory complex laden with heavy machinery such as generators," he added.

Investigators probing the collapse have earlier said the building caved in under the weight of the extra floors and of the generators and heavy machinery in the garment factories.

A court is expected to bring charges later against the 17. They face a maximum seven years in jail for violating the construction code and "abusing power" to approve the building illegally, the spokesman said.

The case is separate from the murder charges expected to be filed by police against around 40 people. Murder is punishable by death.

Sohel Rana, another owner after whom the building was named, is the main accused in the murder case. He has been left out of the current case as his name was not found in any of the papers needed for approval of the building.

"We've filed cases against his father and mother because they are the original owners of the building and they signed all the documents related to the building," Bhattacharjee said.

Police have accused Rana, a former ruling party official, of forcing thousands of employees to go to work even though big cracks appeared in the building a day before.

The complex housing five garment factories collapsed on April 24 last year, killing 1,138 people, injuring more than 2,000 and highlighting appalling safety problems in Bangladesh's $22 billion garment industry.

"This tragedy could have been avoided if the regulators and the local government authorities had done their jobs properly," the spokesman added.

Bangladesh. a key supplier to Western retailers such as Walmart, Tesco and H&M, has since ordered improvements to its 4,500 garment factories.