More than a year after a restaurant gas explosion killed 11 people and injured 42 others, closing arguments have been heard in a trial to hold several defendants responsible for what happened.
During the two-part proceedings, defense attorneys argued that the prosecutor had failed to arrest “the real culprit.”
Meanwhile, lawyers for the victims of the blast petitioned for millions of riyals in compensation for their clients.
After accepting the attorneys’ arguments, a judge said he would deliver the court’s verdict on July 29.
Four on trial
On the morning of Feb. 27, 2014, a powerful explosion ripped through Istanbul Restaurant – a Turkish eatery located in a petrol station complex next to Landmark Mall – killing 11 people and injuring 42 others.
The restaurant was closed at the time. An investigation found that the gas leading to a pizza oven had been left on overnight and was ignited by a spark from a refrigerator inside the restaurant.
Four men were charged with involuntary manslaughter, involuntary/accidental harm and the damaging of property belonging to others. All were released from custody and have pled not guilty. They include:
- A Woqod supervisor accused of failing to tell the company’s distribution department to stop supplying the restaurant with gas as maintenance work was carried out there;
- A Qatar Gas supervisor accused of connecting the restaurant’s new gas line without seeking a safety compliance certificate;
- The restaurant’s baker, who is alleged to have failed to turn off the gas valve of the oven; and
- The restaurant’s accountant, who is accused of not checking to make sure all the gas valves in the restaurant were securely closed before leaving for the night.
During his closing arguments, the defense lawyer representing the Qatar Gas employee argued that his client wasn’t the one who connected the gas line.
Instead, the attorney asserted that the fault lies with the restaurant’s manager, who instructed one of his employees to hook up the gas.
This task was done improperly and without the required Woqod inspections, which the restaurant – not Qatar Gas – failed to schedule.
“(The restaurant manager is) the real culprit. He should be on trial. I don’t understand why the prosecutor did not bring him on trial,” the lawyer told the court.
According to previous testimony, Istanbul Restaurant’s gas lines were overhauled by the Qatar Gas Group to comply with new Civil Defense standards introduced after the deadly 2012 Villaggio mall fire.
The maintenance was completed on Jan. 14, 2014. Woqod was then notified to perform an inspection of the work, which was required before Qatar Gas could reconnect the restaurant’s gas lines to its rooftop tank.
This month, the lawyer representing the Qatar Gas supervisor questioned whether that inspection ever actually happened, and alleged that the tank was connected by restaurant employees.
Days after this apparently took place, the Qatar Gas defendant received a call from the restaurant manager telling him that there was a gas leak. He visited Istanbul Restaurant on Jan. 18 and found that the gas tank was leaking because all the valves were open, including one that should have been closed at all times except during maintenance, according to the attorney.
The Qatar Gas supervisor closed the valves and scolded the restaurant worker who performed the unauthorized hook-up.
The defense lawyer noted that investigators who inspected the gas equipment in the aftermath of the explosion found that the same valve had been left open and suggested that the restaurant staff improperly connected the gas lines a second time after he left, leading to the explosion.
In theory, the restaurant should not have been receiving new gas deliveries during this period because it did not have the proper safety certificates.
However, Woqod refilled the restaurant’s 1,000-liter rooftop tank the morning of the explosion because, prosecutors allege, the Woqod supervisor on trial failed to tell the company’s distribution department to halt deliveries.
For his part, the lawyer representing the Woqod employee argued that there was no relationship between his client’s actions and the explosion and asked that he be found not guilty. Similarly, the lawyer representing the two Istanbul Restaurant employees also submitted written arguments.
The court also heard from lawyers representing the victims of the explosions, their families and the owners of property damaged in the blast.
They’re asking that the criminal court refer their claim to Qatar’s civil court system, a necessary step to pursue financial compensation lawsuits.
While the monetary value of each claim is not known, one lawyer said he was seeking QR15.12 million (US$4.15 million). That suggests the total sum sought by all claimants is much higher.