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Monday, July 26, 2021

Qatar court hears closing arguments in Villaggio Mall fire appeal

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Villaggio Mall
Villaggio Mall

Qatar’s judicial system is holding the wrong people responsible for the deaths of those killed in the 2012 Villaggio Mall fire, a defense attorney argued yesterday in one of the last appeal hearings for the five people convicted after the blaze.

The fire, which began in a sports store, killed 19 people who were trapped in an upstairs nursery at the time.

Speaking in Qatar’s Court of Appeal yesterday, the attorney said employees working at Nike, where the fire originated, should have been held criminally accountable.

The lawyer also blamed Civil Defense firefighters for shutting doors to the mall while there were still people inside, which he argued contributed to the deaths of the 13 children, four employees and two firefighters who suffocated inside the daycare.

“They closed the doors … (allowing) the smoke to reach Gympanzee and the lungs of the children,” the lawyer said. “It should now be clear to the court who the real murderers are.”

The attorney represents Villaggio chairman Abdul Aziz Mohammed Al-Rabban, who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in June 2013 along with the mall’s manager and Gympanzee’s co-owners.

The scene inside Villaggio following the fire.
The scene inside Villaggio following the fire.

All were sentenced to six years in prison, but remain free pending the outcome of the appeal.

A fifth defendant, a municipal government employee, was convicted of forgery for renewing Gympanzee’s permit without visiting the premise in person and faces five years in prison.

While his guilty verdict was read out along with those of the other four individuals, yesterday’s hearing was the first time that the specific offense under which he was convicted was mentioned.

Closing arguments

Al-Rabban’s defense attorney spent approximately five hours delivering his closing arguments yesterday, during which he asserted that the prosecutor’s office rushed its investigation.

His tactics did not sit well with at least one parent who attended yesterday’s hearing.

“It is quite frustrating how the defense lawyer continues to make a mockery out of court, joking around inappropriately and wasting time. Additionally, what’s absurd is for him to the pin the blame on the Nike store employee,” Raghda Kabbani – who lost her three-year-old daughter Hana in the fire – told Doha News.

During the hearing, the lawyer also raised questions about his client’s legal ties to Villaggio.

He saidAl-Rabban does not own any shares in the shopping center and is not a partner in the company that actually owns the mall, but declined to elaborate further.

Villaggio Mall continues to list Abdul Aziz Mohammed Al-Rabban as one of its key executives.
Villaggio Mall continues to list Abdul Aziz Mohammed Al-Rabban as one of its key executives.

“It’s not my job to prove who my client is. This is the job of the prosecutor.”

However, Al-Rabban is still listed as the mall’s chairman and one of the “key members of the Villaggio team” on the shopping center’s website.

The lawyer also accused a Civil Defense witness of committing perjury by testifying during the criminal trial that the pump connected to the mall’s fire suppression system was not working. That officer subsequently changed his assessment during an appeal hearing to conclude that it was not working “optimally.”

For his part, the prosecutor repeated the closing arguments that he presented during the lower court hearing, reviewing evidence and testimony that he said linked the defendants’ actions to the victims’ deaths.

This included reports that found Villaggio’s decorations contained toxic and flammable material and allegations that the mall’s fire suppression system was not working properly.

These arguments are also contained in a separate civil lawsuit filed in Qatar and the US late last month that accuses the mall’s architects, developers, consultants and management firm of making “numerous fatal mistakes.”

The prosecutor also repeated evidence that he said suggested Gympanzee was operating as a nursery, rather than a daycare.

The distinction matters, parents have previously told Doha News, because Civil Defense officials would have known children were inside if it was a properly licensed nursery and would have worked to get them out quickly.

Court of Appeal
Court of Appeal

Firefighters have said they did not initially know that the mall had a nursery or that children were trapped inside.

The prosecutor said he stood by not charging the Nike store employee, explaining that he was questioned as part of the investigation. However, no evidence of criminal wrongdoing was found, he added.

Still, in March, the appeal court heard that the Nike store lacked the proper safety permits.

The prosecutor ended by asking the judge to uphold the criminal court’s verdict. That message was later echoed by a lawyer representing some of the victim’s families, but he added that Nike – either the local franchise or the parent company itself – should also have been charged.

The next hearing is scheduled for June 15, when the defense lawyers for the other four convicted individuals are expected to give their closing arguments.

Thoughts?

17 COMMENTS

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A_qtr
A_qtr
6 years ago

I called it first .. FIFA FIFA villagio FIFA random bs about sharks Fifa

Ali
Ali
6 years ago
Reply to  A_qtr

lol

MIMH
MIMH
6 years ago
Reply to  A_qtr

Loved the shark article. Shame the comments got deleted……

ShabinaKhatri
ShabinaKhatri
6 years ago
Reply to  A_qtr

We will continue to cover Villaggio when there are developments. Closing arguments is a development!

QVision
QVision
6 years ago
Reply to  ShabinaKhatri

I would say that the development was the revelation that the main witness for the prosecution has,under oath, changed his story and confirmed that the sprinkler pumps were operational and operated.
For three years we had been hearing that this wasn’t the case.

HalfManArmy
HalfManArmy
6 years ago
Reply to  A_qtr

What else does Doha News know how to write about?

MIMH
MIMH
6 years ago

This would be a joke of it wasn’t so serious. If that is seriously the defense lawyers argument then he is either very bad at his job or courts in Qatar swallow such BS.

Laughed at his comments about Al Rabban until I remembered the 19 dead people at his mall. (Or maybe not, maybe he is a jin)

Saleem
Saleem
6 years ago
Reply to  MIMH

Jins can’t own malls too?

A_qtr
A_qtr
6 years ago

I actually red the article before commenting.. For a change..

I believe both Nike and the civil defense should be held accountable in addition to the six convicted …

Simon
Simon
6 years ago

Golly it’s hot here. I’m off to Belgium.

Paul
Paul
6 years ago
Reply to  Simon

Gelukzak 😉

Rane de Beer
Rane de Beer
6 years ago

Can’t believe it’s the prosecution’s job to prove who the accused is. The whole criminal system just seems crazy and nobody wants to accept any responsibility. The truth will set you free – just own up. We can dream…

Lisa Clayton
Lisa Clayton
6 years ago

It makes me really sad every time I read an update and am reminded that this case drags on. In the US the courts can get bogged down for an extraordinary amount of time and that leaves the alleged victims wounds fresh until there is resolution. Hope it is soon, but I don’t hold out much hope that the owners will be held accountable.

Transcension
Transcension
6 years ago

“They closed the doors … (allowing) the smoke to reach Gympanzee and the
lungs of the children,” the lawyer said. “It should now be clear to the
court who the real murderers are.” This made me chuckle.

1. The article itself states that the firefighters do not know about the children, and even if they do,
2. Smoke always goes up, and as far as I know Villaggio’s doors are at the ground floor (Gympanzee was on an awkward semi-elevated floor), which means the smoke will go there, unless if the lawyer expected the smoke to be civilized like humans and go out through the doors.

KK
KK
6 years ago

I can say with ‘90% certainty’ that this case will continue for another few years.

Diego
Diego
6 years ago

One of the bottom lines is that it was a very poor location to have children-I have trouble thinking that people would have acted differently if Gympanzee was listed as something else-in either event,children were known to be present.Anyone who has set foot in Villagio before the fire would have seen the signs about Gympanzee-civil defense included.I left my daughter there once when I had a number of things to do and returned after 10 minutes to get her, as the more I thought about it, the more depressed I got about leaving her in such an isolated place.She was also happy to leave-so that says something.Perhaps the Nike store should shoulder some responsibility-but I am sure the employees had no emergency training.Lots at stake here,but lots of lives were lost and thats the highest stake.

Elkhorn
Elkhorn
6 years ago

Let us not place the blame on the Employees of the Nike Store. The fact here is that majority, if not all, of store employees are not trained in fire safety. If we need to additionally blame someone, blame the management of Nike for lacking the necessary proper safety permits.

Though I do hope that the case is resolved and all of those guilty face justice. It would really help the victim’s family reach closure to this most painful event.

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