Murder charges mulled against Bangladesh building owner

Curious onlookers and relatives of missing victims watch from behind makeshift fence as workers dislodge parts of the garment factory building that collapsed in Savar, near Dhaka, Bangladesh Wong Maye-E

DHAKA, Bangladesh Bangladeshi police are investigating possible murder charges against the owner of a shoddily built factory building that collapsed nearly two weeks ago, after the wife of a garment worker crushed in the accident filed a complaint.

The legal development comes as officials said Monday that the death toll from the country's worst industrial disaster had reached 645.

Sheuli Akter, the wife of Jahangir Alam, filed the complaint with Dhaka magistrate Wasim Sheikh, saying her husband and other workers were "pushed toward death" by building owner Mohammed Sohel Rana and two others.

Alam was employed in New Wave Styles Ltd., one of the five garment factories housed in the eight-story Rana Plaza that collapsed April 24 as workers started their morning shift even though cracks had developed in the building.

New Wave Styles owner Bazlul Adnan and local government engineer Imtemam Hossain were the two others accused in the case.

Magistrate Sheikh ordered police to investigate the complaints, and local police chief Mohammed Asaduzzman said Monday that they would now investigate possible murder charges.

A conviction for murder can result in a death sentence in Bangladesh.

Nine people, including Rana and Adanan, have already been arrested on other charges. Rana faces charges such as negligence and illegal construction, which are punishable by a maximum of seven years in jail.

By Monday afternoon, the death toll had reached 645, according to the police control room at the scene. It is not known how many people are still missing, as workers use heavy equipment to search through the rubble. There is still a stench around the collapse site from decomposing bodies.

An architect whose firm designed the initial floors of the building said Sunday it had not been designed for heavy industrial work. Masood Reza, an architect with Vastukalpa Consultants, said they designed the building in 2004 as a shopping mall and not for industrial purposes.

Officials say Rana illegally added three floors and allowed the garment factories to install generators. Vibrations from garment machines and from the generators were thought to have contributed to the collapse.

The disaster is the worst ever in the garment sector, surpassing the 1911 garment disaster in New York's Triangle Shirtwaist factory, which killed 146 workers, and more recent tragedies such as a 2012 fire that killed about 260 people in Pakistan and one in Bangladesh that killed 112, also in 2012.

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