Churihatta fire tragedy: An outcome of greed and negligence
Despite being aware of the threats to life and property, Hazi Wahed Mansion owners still rented out the residential property to set up five warehouses for flammable materials in order to make extra profit.
The charge sheet pressed against eight people, including the two owners of Wahed Mansion and owners and staffers of Pearl Trade International said the 2019 Churihatta fire tragedy, which claimed 71 lives, occurred due to of the greed and negligence of both the building owners and warehouse tenants.
Abdul Qayyum, officer-in-charge of Chawkbazar Police Station and the investigation officer of the case, brought charges of culpable homicide causing death by negligence and mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy property under the sections 304, 436, 427 and 34 of the penal code.
If found guilty, they may face five to 10 years or life term with fine or both.
However, Khurshid Alam Khan, a noted criminal law expert, told The Daily Star yesterday, "The murder charges should be included in the probe report in such cases, but the investigator did not do so here… If the court thinks the murder charges should be included in the case, it can do so while framing charges."
Among the eight charge-sheeted accused, four were arrested while four others surrendered before the court at different times.
All the accused are now on bail.
They are building owners -- Hasan Sultan, 55, and his brother Hossain Sultan Sohel, 47; Pearl International owners – Imtiaz Ahmed, 39, Mohammad Jawad Atir, 35, Mohammad Mozammel Iqbal, 36; their staffer Mozaffar Uddin, 34; and their business partners -- Md Nabil, 45, and Mohammad Kashif, 50.
After the fire incident on this day on 2019, Pearl International's owners and staffers went into hiding for nearly two and a half years.
On September 22 last year, police arrested one owner Imtiaz from Benapole port while he was trying to flee the country, the IO said.
The two brothers of Wahed Mansion, Hasan and Hossain, surrendered before the court nearly two months after the incident and gave statements under section 164.
1 BUILDING, 5 WAREHOUSES AND AN EXPLOSION
Hasan, in his statement, said five units of the building, including the basement were rented out to warehouses.
On the first, second and third floors, there were four warehouses and four residential units. Three of the warehouses were rented out to Imtiaz.
Hasan said the deed copy was burnt in the fire so he could not specify the tenants' addresses, adding that he saw the company owners for the last time when he rented out the floors to them five years ago.
Their managers Taher and Mozaffar used to pay the rent and he saw brothers Kashif and Nabil visiting the warehouses.
The other part of the first floor was rented to one Modasser, who owns scotch tape and energy lightbulb businesses.
Hossain, in his statement, said he rented out the basement to one Hasan Sohel Shamim, who stored colour and powder there.
The Fire Service and Civil Defence's probe body found the warehouses on the first, second and third floors contained huge quantities of body spray, air freshener, aerosol, gas lighter, fuel, etc.
The fire started on the first floor.
The Criminal Investigation Department of police found ethyl alcohol, butane, isobutene, propene, butoxyethanol, glycol ether, diethyl phthalate, propylene and polyethylene – all flammable -- among the seized products found on the spot.
The department of explosives said an electric spark was first created during the polybag sealing in a machine and then it came in contact with the flammable substance, igniting the explosion.
WRONG ADDRESSES, CHASING FUGITIVES
As police could not arrest the fugitives for long, the IO applied to the National Identity Registration Wing, Department of Immigration and Passport, Special Branch of Police, and Bangladesh Bank on different dates to track down the owners of Pearl Trade International.
In November 2020, the IO found that the company had been operating the import business under "Pearl Venture" with a private bank account mentioning an address at 27 Imamganj's Hazi Mohammad Ali Centre, of which Imtiaz, Jawad, Mozammel, Kashif and Nabil are business partners.
During investigation, however, police did not find any such company or shop there.
Investigators also found that the company owners' addresses given by two banks were not real.
On July 14, they arrested manager Mozaffer and on information by him, they arrested Mozammel and Nabil on August 28. Imtiaz was arrested on September 22, while Kashif and Jawad surrendered before court on October 18 and December 9.