A court in Bangladesh has sentenced the owner of a nine-storey building that collapsed and left more than 1,100 people dead in 2013 to three years in jail for unaccounted income.
Sohel Rana, the owner of Rana Plaza, was found guilty of accumulating property and money through corrupt practices by a special court in the capital, Dhaka, on Tuesday, officials said.
“This is the first time he has been convicted and jailed,” Salahuddin Eskander, prosecutor, told AFP news agency.
Rana constructed two commercial buildings, including the one that collapsed on April 24, 2013, in Savar, 20km north of Dhaka, with money he derived from undisclosed sources, investigator Mahmbubul Alam said.
In the country’s worst industrial disaster, 2,500 were also injured when the building that housed five garment factories collapsed. Most of the victims were garment workers.
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Rana was arrested four days after the incident. He separately faces four other charges, including murder, for his involvement in the deaths of the workers.
He and 37 others could be sentenced to death if found guilty of murder over the factory complex’s collapse. The trial has been delayed by appeals in the higher court.
Tuesday’s verdict came after Bangladesh’s official corruption watchdog filed a case against Rana and his family over his wealth following the deadly collapse.
Defence attorneys said Rana would appeal the verdict.
“He was in custody when he was served the Anti Corruption Commission notice to submit his wealth statement. In the jail he was not given enough time to meet his lawyer or his family,” his lawyer, Faruque Ahmed, told AFP.
Rana and 17 others have also been charged with violating building codes when extending the six-storey structure by a further three floors. The illegal construction was blamed by investigators for the tragedy.
Bangladeshi activists welcomed Tuesday’s verdict against Rana, but urged prosecutors to fast-track a court date for his murder trial.
“It has been four years since the tragedy, and still this trial has not begun in full swing,” Kalpona Akter, head of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, told AFP.
“He is a cold-blooded murderer. He forced workers to work in a death chamber.”
More than 1,100 people were killed and more than 2,500 others injured in the collapse in 2013 [Khurshed Rinku/Reuters]
The April 2013 collapse highlighted the grim conditions in Bangladesh’s garment industry, which earns more than $25bn a year from exports, mainly to the United States and Europe.
The disaster prompted sweeping reforms in the garment sector, including new safety inspections and higher wages in the industry which employs around four million workers, mostly women.
Bangladesh has the world’s second-largest garment industry, with nearly 4,000 factories.
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Source: News agencies