SAVAR, Bangladesh — The fugitive owner of an allegedly illegally constructed building that collapsed in Bangladesh in a deadly heap last week was captured Sunday at a border crossing with India by members of a commando force.
Mohammed Sohel Rana was arrested in Benapole in western Bangladesh, just as he was about to flee into India’s West Bengal state, said Jahangir Kabir Nanak, junior minister for local government. Rana was brought back by helicopter to the capital Dhaka where he faced charges of negligence.
Rana’s capture by the Rapid Action Battalion brought cheers and applause when it was announced on a loudspeaker at the site of the collapsed building in the Dhaka suburb of Savar, where search and rescue operations were continuing through the night.
At least 377 people are confirmed to have died in the collapse of the right-story building on Wednesday. Three of its floors were built illegally. The death toll is expected to rise but it is already the deadliest tragedy to hit Bangladesh’s garment industry, which is worth $20 billion annually and is a mainstay of the economy.
The collapse and previous disasters in garment factories have focused attention on the poor working conditions of workers who toil for as little as $38 a month to produce clothing for top international brands.
Rana was presented before the media briefly at the commando force’s headquarters in Dhaka. Wearing a printed shirt, an exhausted and disheveled Rana was sweating as two security officers held him by his arms. A security official helped him to drink water after he gestured he was thirsty. He did not speak to the media during the 10-minute appearance after which he was taken away. He is likely to be handed over to local police who will have to charge him and produce him in court within 24 hours.
A small-time politician from the ruling party, Rana had been on the run since Wednesday. He last appeared in public in front of his Rana Plaza on Tuesday after huge cracks appeared in the building. However, he assured tenants, including five garment factories, that the building was safe, according to witnesses.