Bangladesh factory fire tagged ‘act of sabotage’

Updated 17 December 2012
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Bangladesh factory fire tagged ‘act of sabotage’

DHAKA: A fire that killed 111 workers at a Bangladesh garment factory last month was an act of sabotage and managers at the plant prevented victims from escaping, the head of an official inquiry said Monday.
Speaking to AFP after submitting his report on the tragedy to the government, Main Uddin Khandaker also said his team had recommended the owner should face murder charges over the deadliest fire ever at a Bangladeshi garment factory.
The factory, based on the outskirts of Dhaka, was supplying clothes to a variety of international brands including US giant Walmart, Dutch retailer C&A and ENYCE, a label owned by US rapper Sean “Diddy” Combs.
“We have found that the fire that gutted Tazreen Fashion factory in Ashulia was an act of sabotage,” Khandaker said.
“The statements of the witnesses revealed that it was an act of sabotage. There was no possibility of the fire originating due to an electric short-circuit or any other reason,” he added, without suggesting who might have triggered the fire or why.
He said the fire was small when it broke out on the night of November 24 in the middle of the factory warehouse in the ground floor.
“But there was no attempt to douse it. We suggested that the government set up a taskforce to find out the people responsible for this heinous act,” he added.
Khandaker also said his inquiry team would recommend that Delwar Hossain, the owner of the factory in the Ashulia industrial district, should face murder charges for “gross negligence and unpardonable crime.”
“We have suggested legal action against him and nine of his mid-level managers who barred the workers from leaving the burning factory,” he said.
The owner told reporters after the blaze that he believed it was started deliberately but gave no details.
The victims, mostly women who were paid as little as $37 a month, found themselves overcome by smoke or jumped from elevated windows. Firefighters have told AFP that all three of the fire exits led to the ground floor.
Fire investigators had earlier said the nine-story factory lacked a valid safety licence at the time and only had permission for three floors.
Abdus Salam, a member of the inquiry committee, told AFP that the building lacked proper fire exits on the upper floors.
“All fire exits led to the ground floor. The staircases were not enclosed or separated, which allowed the smoke to easily spread to the upper floors,” Salam said.
“The workers were trapped or just had to jump from the upper floors. Still the casualties would have been much less had the supervisors allowed the workers to leave the factory when the fire broke out.”
The garment industry, which accounts for up 80 percent of Bangladesh’s $24.3 billion annual export, is the mainstay of the impoverished country’s economy. Its 4,500 garment factories account for 40 percent of the industrial workforce.
Around 700 people have been killed in fires in garment factories since 2006.
Western retailers have openly criticized Bangladesh factories for not ensuring workers safety but major brands continue to place orders.


Almost $30 million seized in raids linked to Malaysian ex-PM

Updated 16 sec ago
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Almost $30 million seized in raids linked to Malaysian ex-PM

  • The money was seized along with 284 boxes containing designer handbags, as well as watches and jewelry from a condominium in Kuala Lumpur
  • Public disgust at allegations of corruption swirling around Najib was a major factor for the loss

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian police said Friday they found cash amounting to almost $30 million in a raid on a luxury apartment as they probed corruption allegations swirling around ousted leader Najib Razak.
The money was seized along with 284 boxes containing designer handbags, as well as watches and jewelry from a condominium in Kuala Lumpur, which was raided along with Najib’s home and other sites last week.
Najib’s coalition was thrown out of power for the first time in over six decades in the May 9 poll, defeated by a reformist alliance headed by his former mentor Mahathir Mohamad.
Public disgust at allegations of corruption swirling around Najib was a major factor for the loss, with the ex-leader, his family and cronies accused of looting billions of dollars from sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.
There has been much speculation about what the seized goods consisted of and their value after five trucks were reportedly brought in to help move the vast stash.
Giving an update, the police’s head of commercial crime Amar Singh said: “From the money found, there were 26 currencies, the total amount as of yesterday is 114 million ($28.6 million).”
The money was found in 35 bags while another 37 bags contained watches and jewelry, he told a press conference. The value of other items will be calculated later, he said.
The seizure of the luxury goods added to public scorn of Najib’s wife Rosmah Mansor, long reviled by Malaysians for her perceived haughty demeanour and reported vast collection of designer bags, clothing and jewelry.
Her love of overseas shopping trips, as middle class Malaysians struggle with rising living costs, added to a sense of spreading, deeply-entrenched rot in the country’s long-ruling elite.
The couple’s fall from grace has been swift and hard.
They have been barred from leaving the country and the ex-premier has been questioned by anti-graft investigators over claims 1MDB money ended up in his bank accounts, and looks likely to be charged.
Najib and the fund deny any wrongdoing.