A Bangladesh court on Monday accepted murder charges against 41 people in the April 2013 Rana Plaza tragedy, in which a commercial complex collapsed, leaving 1,137 people dead.
If convicted of murder, the defendants could face the death penalty. The maximum punishment for culpable homicide is seven years in jail.
Senior Judicial Magistrate Md Al-Amin took the decision as he accepted the charges, which were filed in June by the criminal investigation department of the police. The magistrate also issued arrest warrants against 24 fugitives, said police inspector Mohammad Asaduzzaman after Monday’s decision.
The building’s owner, Sohel Rana, is in jail while 16 others, including his parents, are on bail.
Rana Plaza collapsed after it developed huge cracks, purportedly because of the huge load the building underwent due to the presence of five garment factories, a shopping centre and dozens of offices.
Investigators initially had said the accused, who also include the owners of the five factories in the building, would be charged with culpable homicide. However, they soon upgraded the charge because of the seriousness of the case, eventually becoming Bangladesh’s worst industrial disaster.
Investigators said the shift from mere culpable homicide charges came after an investigation found that Rana, his staff and the management of the five garment factories had forced workers to enter the building despite their unwillingness to work on the day of the accident after the building developed major cracks a day earlier. The police report called the deaths a “mass killing”.
Asaduzzaman said that the court has directed the police to submit their updates on the arrests by January 27, 2016, when the court hears the case next. He also stated that the magistrate ordered the confiscation of the fugitives’ property if they do not surrender.
The Rana Plaza collapse highlighted the grim conditions in Bangladesh’s garment industry and triggered an uproar at home and abroad.