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Sunday, June 20, 2021

Closing argument date scheduled for Qatar’s Villaggio Mall fire appeal

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Villaggio Mall
Villaggio Mall

After months of delays, attorneys representing five people sentenced to jail after the deadly 2012 Villaggio Mall fire have dropped requests to call more witnesses and asked to present their closing arguments before Ramadan in June.

The move followed an outburst in court yesterday by a defense lawyer after the judge ordered him to limit the scope of his questions to keep the pace of the proceedings moving briskly.

Appeals court
Appeals court

Sunday’s hearing took place nearly three weeks after Qatar’s Emir reportedly told the prime minister of New Zealand that he is “utterly committed to making sure those who are responsible will be held to account” for the deadly fire.

May 28 marks the third anniversary of the blaze, in which 19 people died, including two-year-old triplets from New Zealand, after being trapped inside the mall’s Gympanzee daycare center.

No explanation was given during the hearing for the abrupt change of pace in the proceedings. However, international legal experts have previously argued that Qatar’s justice system is susceptible to political influence.

Reaction

Yesterday’s session sparked mixed reactions from the family members of those who died in the fire. Many have previously expressed frustration with the slow-moving appeals process, which began in November 2013 following the criminal conviction of five individuals for involuntary manslaughter.

“I am content that the final arguments are scheduled to begin in less than a month,” Abdelmasseih Antonios, who lost his two-year-old daughter Evana, told Doha News. “This was a very pleasant surprise. I just hope that a verdict will be passed before the court recess, so we don’t have to wait until September.”

Others, however, said the previous delays had already tarnished the proceedings.

Louie Aban with his late wife and son, who now lives in the Philippines.
Louie Aban with his late wife and son, who now lives in the Philippines.

“The fact that the trial is finally starting to move quickly does not make me happy,” said Louie Aban, whose wife was an accountant at Gympanzee.

“I am already very angry for having had to wait for almost two years for the Court of Appeal to make a decision … I just want to see the people responsible for (my) little boy losing his mother and me losing the love my life punished.”

Witness testimony

The three witnesses called Sunday all provided testimony that had largely been heard during the criminal trial.

A fire expert from the Ministry of Interior’s criminal laboratory said the fire started in a ceiling light fixture on the mezzanine level of a Nike store inside Villaggio. However, due to the extensive fire damage, he could not pinpoint a specific cause beyond determining that it was an electrical defect.

Villaggio Mall
Villaggio Mall

His testimony was followed by a Civil Defense lieutenant who prepared an internal report in 2008 for his superiors that noted the decorations inside Villaggio were made in part from materials that may be flammable.

He also noted in his report that mall officials had not responded to his request made months earlier for engineering and architectural documents related to the shopping center’s windows, ceilings and decorations.

The defense lawyer representing Villaggio’s owner attempted to start his questioning by asking the witness about his credentials and how long he’s worked for Civil Defense, but was instructed by the judge to focus on the 2008 report.

Taken aback, the lawyer asked that the judge’s directions be noted in the official record of proceedings so “when it is time for this trial to go to the Court of Cassation, it can see that the appeal court was unjust.”

Those comments didn’t sit well with the prosecutor.

“This defense attorney is terrorizing the court and threatening to take the case to the Court of Cassation,” he said. “This is unacceptable.”

The judge ultimately allowed the lawyer to proceed with his line of questioning after getting in a shot of his own, saying the lawyer’s threat to take the matter to the Court of Cassation suggests “the lawyer does not trust his own ability to argue the defendant’s case.”

Nursery or play area?

The final witness to appear Sunday was a woman who used to take her children to Gympanzee prior to the fire.

She was called by the defense lawyer representing Gympanzee’s owners, who is trying to prove that the facility was a play area for children rather than a nursery.

Children's artwork at Gympanzee
Children\’s artwork at Gympanzee

The distinction is important, parents of the children who died in the fire have said, because if Civil Defense officials had known children were inside when the fire first broke out, they could have worked to get them out more quickly.

The witness said she took her children to Gympanzee for birthday parties, arts and crafts activities as well as for short-term babysitting while she shopped in the mall.

“For me, it was an entertainment center,” she said in response to a judge’s question.

However, the prosecutor challenged the credibility of the witness by noting that she had attended previous court sessions as a friend of Gympanzee’s co-owner, Iman Al-Kuwari. The prosecutor made a similar claim during the lower court hearing.

After missing several recent sessions, Al-Kuwari was present for Sunday’s hearing. Her husband, who is also Qatar’s ambassador to Belgium and also faces jail time for involuntary manslaughter, once again was not present for the court session.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

His lawyer has previously explained his absence by saying his job duties prevented him from attended. On Sunday, however, he said his client was unable to fly for medical reasons.

The prosecutor and the defense attorney representing Villaggio’s owner are scheduled to give their closing arguments on June 7.

They will be followed on June 15 – days before Ramadan begins – by the defense attorneys representing Gympanzee’s co-owners, the mall’s manager and an employee of the Ministry of Business and Trade who gave Gympanzee its permit.

It is not clear when a verdict will be issued. Legal sources said the Court of Appeal would likely begin its summer break at the end of June.

Thoughts?

56 COMMENTS

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MIMH
MIMH
6 years ago

The Defence Lawyer threatening the judge! Quite unbelievable! It should be held in contempt of court and awaiting his own trial for such outrageous behaviour.

Let’s hope this unholy mess gets clear up once and for all quickly, but I fear as the defence lawyer stated if it goes against his clients there will be another appeal to a higher chamber and this will drag on for more years, while the Ambassdor to Belgium enjoys champagne and chocholates while living in his fancy residence.

qatari
qatari
6 years ago
Reply to  MIMH

innocent until the judge judge otherwise , till then your comments towards the Ambassador are BLAH ,BLAH,BLAH .

MIMH
MIMH
6 years ago
Reply to  qatari

He was convicted in a court of law in Qatar, yet is still allowed to represent Qatar abroad as a senior representative of the government. If his nationality was Indian do you think he would be free while the appeal was going on?

At the very least he should be suspended from his position until the appeal hearing is concluded. If the appeal fails he goes to jail and completes his sentence, (not one day spent in jail yet) if he is found innocent then he can be free to resume his duties. The current situation is a shameful for Qatar.

qatari
qatari
6 years ago
Reply to  MIMH

same thing happens in other countries, if someone pays a pail he remains free till the final judgment .actually its a western thing.and using THE INDIAN CARD , is getting old

Illusionist's wife
Illusionist's wife
6 years ago
Reply to  qatari

Ok fine, let him pay a hefty bail … but being the ambassador???? He should not be able to travel outside the country, he should report weekly to the police, and he should be made attend the hearings … this is a disgrace to the relatives

qatari
qatari
6 years ago

its called diplomatic immunity .another western thing. google it

Illusionist's wife
Illusionist's wife
6 years ago
Reply to  qatari

well, this should apply to all of them then … never said I was supporting the diplomatic immunity … and we could now discuss rather lengthly what the Arab way would be without any official immunity … but we’d rather not …

Martin
Martin
6 years ago
Reply to  qatari

Diplomatic immunity is a form of legal immunity that ensures diplomats are given safe passage and are considered not susceptible to lawsuit or prosecution under the host country’s laws –

It does not mean that the individual is exempt from his/her home country’s laws.

Yacine
Yacine
6 years ago
Reply to  Martin

Wrong. It applies in internal issues.

Doc
Doc
6 years ago
Reply to  Yacine

Wrong. It does not exempt anyone from their own countries laws only when serving abroad.

Yacine
Yacine
6 years ago
Reply to  Doc

Educate yourself before you speak.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parliamentary_immunity

al-Lalal
al-Lalal
6 years ago
Reply to  Yacine

Just google the words “diplomatic” and “parliamentary” as they refer to immunity and try to undrestand the difference between the two before writing nonsense. Another option is to blame the Americans for your own ignorance.

Doc
Doc
6 years ago
Reply to  Yacine

Oh dear me. You need to educate yourself a little more and learn the difference between ‘parliamentary’ and ‘diplomatic’. Then learn to not base arguments on what you read on the internet and finally does Qatar have a parliament?

Yacine
Yacine
6 years ago
Reply to  Doc

In our case what is the point of talking about diplomatic immunity? This guy has no issues with Belgium so we should be talking about the possible immunity granted by Qatar for local issues. Do you get it now?
The fact that Qatar does not have a parliament does not mean that its officials are not guaranteed some form of immunity during the exercise of their activities. And this is a WESTERN concept. Got it now?

Doc
Doc
6 years ago
Reply to  Yacine

You don’t get it. Read the thread from top to bottom……

Your making yourself look a little foolish now

Yummykarak
Yummykarak
6 years ago
Reply to  Doc

I have to agree, it does not seem like himself nor the initial commentator have a good grasp what diplomatic immunity is.

al-Lalal
al-Lalal
6 years ago
Reply to  Yacine

And the immunity he is granted is….? Hint: Wasta is a form of immunity

MIMH
MIMH
6 years ago
Reply to  al-Lalal

Now someone is talking sense…..

Yacine
Yacine
6 years ago
Reply to  al-Lalal

I do agree it is nonsensical but we are talking about Qatar here not Switzerland

Michael Fryer
Michael Fryer
6 years ago
Reply to  Yacine

If he was immune from prosecution he wouldn’t have been charged with the crime, tried for the crime, and found guilty for the crime.
You aren’t immune from a disease if you catch it, and then get better. You are immune from a disease when you don’t catch it at all.
In the same way if you are immune from prosecution the courts wouldn’t have the ability to prosecute you for the crime. That’s what the word ‘immune’ means.

Yacine
Yacine
6 years ago
Reply to  Michael Fryer

You are right here. He shouldn’t have been tried in the first place if he has immunity, which raises the question if there is any sort of immunity in the Qatari system

Michael Fryer
Michael Fryer
6 years ago
Reply to  Yacine

I disagree with your premise that he shouldn’t have been tried, but whatever, let’s just keep this train of thought running. What about his wife, should she have been tried? And if her appeal is unsuccessful should she go to jail?
What about Abdulaziz Al Rabban, one of the richest men in Qatar. Should he have been tried? He isn’t from the royal family or married into it, so was the court right to charge him and find him guilty?
Do you think he will ever end up behind bars?

Yacine
Yacine
6 years ago
Reply to  Michael Fryer

I mean he shouldn’t have been tried if he had immunity. Anyway this whole case is shameful and in a normal world the ambassador, his wife and Villagio management should be in jail by now or should have at least served some time in jail.

Michael Fryer
Michael Fryer
6 years ago
Reply to  Yacine

We he was tried. So either he has immunity and was tried in error. Or he doesn’t have (legitimate) immunity and should be tried like any other person.
Which do you think is more likely?

AEC
AEC
6 years ago
Reply to  Yacine

are you serious?

Michael Fryer
Michael Fryer
6 years ago
Reply to  Yacine

Did you actually read the link to what you have posted here? Parliamentary Immunity is only partial, and in almost every country that offers it, it is limited to being immune from slander and libel prosecution – ie saying something untrue about someone or something.

It would never in a million years offer any protection from a manslaughter prosecution.

Yacine
Yacine
6 years ago
Reply to  Michael Fryer

Sure but we are in Qatar and while the whole concept of immunity is wrong in my eyes it still applies somehow here

MIMH
MIMH
6 years ago
Reply to  Yacine

Parliment and diplomatic immunity are too different things and even parlimentary immunity does not protect you from charges of involuntary manslaughter!

Yacine
Yacine
6 years ago
Reply to  MIMH

True but this is Qatar…

Observant One
Observant One
6 years ago
Reply to  Yacine

Bahahahahaha…..using Wikipedia as a source….bahahahahaha..you are a funny one..or a halfwit….

Simon
Simon
6 years ago
Reply to  Observant One

‘A slave to Wikipedia’???

ShabinaKhatri
ShabinaKhatri
6 years ago
Reply to  Yacine

Deleting the rest of this thread for devolving into attacks.

Chilidog
Chilidog
6 years ago
Reply to  Martin

You beat me to it. It applies if you break a law in another country while on diplomatic assignment. It means nothing for your own country and its laws. However, if your own country operates its legal system like a good ole boys club (a la Qatar), you just need to have the right last name and all immunity can and will be granted.

MIMH
MIMH
6 years ago
Reply to  Chilidog

Actually no, you cannot break laws in another country and just get away with it. You can still be charged with a criminal offence. Diplomatic immunity is something different and you can be stripped of it if the host country believes you have committed a serious offence. However no country takes that course of action without very good justfication.

Chilidog
Chilidog
6 years ago
Reply to  MIMH

I suppose what I should have said is that it CAN apply if you break a law in another country. I didn’t mean that it always would. But my point still stands that it wouldn’t apply in this case (but he apparently doesn’t need it even if it could).

Turbohampster
Turbohampster
6 years ago
Reply to  qatari

Im sorry but this is also completely wrong!

Bail is deposit of money or property to ensure a person turns up in court for the trial.
When a person has already been CONVICTED of a crime, they should be serving their sentence! As you put it the final judgement has ALREADY been served
An appeal is launched while you are serving your sentence if a judge has reason to doubt to original verdict!

Do you seriously think an expat would be allowed to leave Qatar and carry on as though nothing had happened after being convicted of a crime?

Remember the French footballer or the Head of Al’Jazeera?? Both of who had actually never been convicted of a crime and were both found to have been subject to false allegations

Desert Witch
Desert Witch
6 years ago
Reply to  qatari

Bail does not apply if the person has been found already guilty. He would remain in prison until such time as the appeal case overturned the original verdict.

Michkey
Michkey
6 years ago
Reply to  qatari

Imagine your children burned until their skin cracked like popcorn and they stop screaming. Let that image sink in for a moment and you may realize why people are impatient!
People get impatient when a car drives at 70 kph in front of them in a 80 kph carriageway!

qatari
qatari
6 years ago
Reply to  Michkey

not the point we are discussing , you cannot accuse ppl while the a court with judges still have not . not your place to do so .

al-Lalal
al-Lalal
6 years ago
Reply to  qatari

You might have missed the news. The accused have been convicted. The case is now under appeal.

MIMH
MIMH
6 years ago
Reply to  qatari

I’m not accusing him of anything, a Qatari court convicted him and five other people of involunatary manslaughter. He has already been designated a criminal but still hold a senior position in Qatar’s government. Are these the type of people you want representing Qatar?

Michael Fryer
Michael Fryer
6 years ago
Reply to  qatari

He as accused, tried, and found guilty.
No need to worry about allegations – the court has already reached its verdict.
He is now guilty until such time as an appeals court finds him to be not guilty.

Huzz
Huzz
6 years ago
Reply to  qatari

Are you drinking white spirit? They have been accused, tried and convicted already. The appeals process is a separate entity. They don’t need to be accused now as this part is already over.

Huzz
Huzz
6 years ago
Reply to  Michkey

We get your point but a little insensitive here given the circumstances. I would voluntarily remove this post.

Michkey
Michkey
6 years ago
Reply to  Huzz

Aye, sir!
Blatant bureaucracy has denied justice to the one who lost loved one! Don’t you think that jabbering on that bureaucracy is sprinkling tabasco sauce in their eyes. Insensitive comments deserve a severe shock. However, ‘judging’ by the response, it didn’t work!

Michkey
Michkey
6 years ago
Reply to  qatari

Words fail me!

MIMH
MIMH
6 years ago
Reply to  qatari

Acutally no, he is guilty. He has already been found guilty of a criminal offence, he is appealing that verdict with the others that were convicted in a court of law in Qatar. If the appeal court finds the conviction was the wrong conclusion then they can overturn that verdict, until then he is a convicted criminal.

Yummykarak
Yummykarak
6 years ago
Reply to  qatari

He and his wife have already been charged with offenses; they are appealing the verdict. You have not been following this story from the beginning have you?

Sabz
Sabz
6 years ago

I don’t care what encouraged the courts to hurry its proceedings, I’m just glad that they are moving forward and I pray with all my heart that justice is served, that those who are responsible (be it from arrogance or neglect) are punished for their oversight, and that the families of the victims may finally get closure.

Expat77
Expat77
6 years ago

Every time there is a manslaughter charge, appoint him as Diplomat somewhere so that he /she shall enjoy Diplomatic immunity …Problem solved….. Sad.

qatari
qatari
6 years ago
Reply to  Expat77

i know, using western laws of diplomatic immunity sucks

Michael Fryer
Michael Fryer
6 years ago
Reply to  qatari

I think you perhaps don’t understand the definition of diplomatic immunity. It refers to immunity from the host country’s laws. In this instance the Belgium Ambassador, for instance, would be immune from prosecution by Belgium courts under Belgium law in the country of Belgium.
Diplomatic immunity doesn’t apply to crimes that you are found guilty of by your own country’s court system, such as being found guilty for the crime of manslaughter in the country of Qatar, as an example.

judy q
judy q
6 years ago
Reply to  qatari

Diplomats are not immune from breaking the laws in their OWN country…better inform yourself of the “western” laws of diplomatic immunity . I think you are getting them mixed up with Wasta, qatari…

Michael L
Michael L
6 years ago

We need to stop discussing the racial or ‘wasta’ aspects of this; for this particular case all of us who live in and contribute to Qatar should be united in wanting justice to be seen to be served in a timely manner. The victims of this gross negligence were mainly innocent children; that’s all we need to remember.

The Reporter
The Reporter
6 years ago

As someone who has worked on the safety side of the hospitality industry and responsible for the wellbeing of guests I have little faith in a just outcome to this process – although I would love to be surprised. The mall was failed on so many levels – maintenance staff – management staff – owner- state authorities – all of whom could have contributed to making it a safer place and probably avoiding this disaster were it not for their lack of awareness – and accuse me of stereotyping if you like but general safety awareness in buildings in Qatar even after the fire is appalling.

Expat1000
Expat1000
6 years ago

This is very bizarre to me. The lack of understanding regarding bail and immunity seems widespread. If the ambassador was tried and convicted then he obviously didn’t have immunity. If he was convicted he should be serving his sentence pending his appeal. As he is not, apparently he has immunity from serving his sentence!? (although perhaps it is the law here that people are free pending their appeal….a very odd concept that I doubt would work for convicted murderers…ALL of whom appeal!) As others have noted, bail is what you post as a guarantee that you will show up for trial, not after a trial and conviction. It doesn’t make sense that he would, as a Qatari, be immune from Qatari law, nor does it make sense that he would be out on bail or free in any other manner after a conviction in a criminal proceeding. Even if the law here is to allow freedom pending the appeals, it still begs the question as to why Qatar would want a convicted criminal representing them in international diplomacy.

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