DHAKA (Reuters) - A Bangladesh court on Tuesday issued an arrest warrant for a fugitive garment factory owner on homicide charges for the deaths of 112 workers in a fire last year, police said.
Police last week laid charges against Delwar Hossain, his wife and 11 employees of Tazreen Fashions, a rare step in a country where critics complain that powerful garment industry bosses often go unpunished for factory accidents.
Many of those who died in the multi-storey building on the outskirts of Dhaka in November last year perished because supervisors ordered workers back to their stations even as an alarm rang and smoke rose through an internal staircase.
Dhaka's senior judicial magistrate, Wasim Sheikh, issued arrest warrants for Hossain, his wife and four other company officials, prosecutor Anwarul Kabir said.
They could be tried in absentia if they are not found by February 25, he said.
"Several times we raided their houses, including Hossain's residence, to nab them. But they were not found. They have been shown as fugitives in the charge sheet," investigation police officer A.K.S. Mohosin-uz Zaman Khan told Reuters.
"We appealed to the court to issue the arrest warrants against the absconding accused and confiscate their properties."
The charges against the 13 included breaching construction rules and building design faults such as the failure to provide two emergency exits, an investigating officer said. If convicted, they could face life in prison.
Hossain told Reuters earlier that he was not guilty and had not left the country.
"I have the full respect for the law, and because of that I did not try to flee the country though I had a U.S visa. I am not guilty and will try to prove it when the trial begins," he said by telephone, a day after he was charged on December 22.
He said he was in Dhaka. His wife, Mahmuda Akter, was chairwoman of Tazreen Fashions.
Bangladesh, the world's second-largest apparel exporter after China, this month raised wages for garment workers after a string of factory accidents thrust poor pay and conditions into the international spotlight.
The $22 billion export industry, which supplies many Western brands, came under scrutiny when a building housing factories collapsed in April, five months after the Tazreen fire, killing more than 1,130 people.
The owner of that building, the Rana Plaza, Mohammed Sohel Rana, was arrested after a four-day hunt as he appeared to be trying to flee across the border to India.
After the Tazreen blaze, both Wal-Mart Stores inc (WMT.N) and Sears Holdings Inc (SHLD.O) said that goods were being manufactured for them at the factory though both had denied it authorisation as a supplier. (Editing by Robert Birsel)