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Friday, June 25, 2021

Villaggio fire appeal may ‘start from scratch’ after new judge appointed

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With reporting from Riham Sheble

In yet another delay, a new judge has been appointed to preside over the Villaggio Mall fire appeal hearings.

During the first hearing since the summer break, the judge asked lawyers yesterday to restate their primary arguments so he could be brought up to speed on the case.

The move has upset some of the relatives of the 19 people killed in the fire, who say they have watched the appeal drag on for more than 11 months.

Speaking to Doha News, Abdelmasseih Antonios, who lost his two-year-old daughter Evana in the May 2012 blaze, said:

“I am surprised that after all this time and postponement of hearings, a new judge has been appointed to preside over the case which means starting from scratch. They should pick up from where the former panel left off.”

Delays

Last June, a lower court found five people guilty of involuntary manslaughter for their roles in the fire, which claimed the lives of 13 children, four daycare center employees and two firemen.

The convicted individuals include Villaggio’s chairman, its manager, the co-owners of the improperly licensed Gympanzee nursery and the bureaucrat who gave the child care center its business permit.

Though the defendants were ordered to serve five to six years in jail, all remain free pending the outcome of the appeal. That process got underway last November, and was immediately hit with delays after two of the defendants initially failed to show up.

The case resumed in January – gaps in trials are common in Qatar, where court hearings do not generally run on consecutive days – but was postponed again in June after defense lawyers requested more time to cross-examine witnesses.

When they marked the two-year anniversary of their loved ones’ deaths in May, many of the victims’ families said they were not hopeful for a speedy end of the case.

Some have received blood money compensation over the deaths, as ordered by the lower court, while others’ cases remain tied up in disputes. Meanwhile, high costs have prompted some families to cease legal representation altogether.

Oral arguments

Yesterday, the new presiding judge opened the hearings by pledging to put the case back on its correct procedural course and began by inviting the defense lawyers to make oral statements outlining why they were appealing the primary verdict.

They responded by saying the deadly Villaggio blaze was just like any other fire in Qatar, except that it received sensationalized media coverage. The co-owners of Gympanzee, according to their lawyer, were victims themselves and not perpetrators.

Meanwhile, lawyers for the two Villaggio Mall officials argued that the shopping center was safe and that the incident was caused by employees of a Nike store who stored merchandise improperly, as well as Civil Defense first responders whose actions while fighting the fire made the tragedy worse.

In response to those arguments, another of the victim’s relatives expressed disbelief:

“I can’t believe … lawyers are calling this a case of media propaganda. They said that fires are an ordinary thing that happen everywhere, everyday. I really can’t believe it,” said Raghda Sharabati, who lost her three-year-old daughter Hana in the fire.

A request by the prosecutor to have the defense lawyers’ statements be considered closing arguments and a verdict date be set was denied.

Instead, the judge scheduled the next court date for Dec. 21, which would be the last opportunity for lawyers to submit requests for additional evidence or witnesses to be included in subsequent hearings.

It is not unusual for new judges to be appointed to long-standing cases in Qatar, depending on the judicial terms of their predecessors. But the delays this causes in the system can be daunting for many.

In an email to Doha News, Martin Weekes, whose two-year-old triplets Lillie, Jackson and Willsher were killed in the fire, said:

“It is frustrating and completely illogical that a judge could be changed part way through a trial process simply for administrative purposes. It’s just yet another example of how inhumanely the process is for the victims and their families.”

Future appeal sessions are expected to review footage of the fire shot by three television stations, as well as photos of the scene taken by criminal and forensic investigators.

Additionally, the court is looking for reports on decorations in the mall by the Italian manufacturer, an American laboratory and Qatar’s public works authority, Ashghal.

Espionage case

A separate high-profile case was also scheduled to appear before an appellate court yesterday and had to be postponed after the imprisoned defendants failed to appear for their hearing.

Three Filipino men were convicted of espionage earlier this year for passing along military and economic secrets to their home government. One received the death sentence, while the other two men were given life sentences in prison.

The Philippines government denies the charges, and the men are appealing their conviction.

However, they were not brought to the courthouse from prison, forcing the judge to reschedule the hearing for Dec. 21. No explanation for the defendants’ absence was given.

Thoughts?

20 COMMENTS

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MIMH
MIMH
6 years ago

The kids who died in Villagio would have graduated university by the time this trial concludes.

Mohammed Albanai
Mohammed Albanai
6 years ago

Oh come on!

MIMH
MIMH
6 years ago

Why are the Filipinos not allowed to be free while their appeal is heard? Some of the defendents in the Villagio case despite being convicted were even allowed to leave the country and represent Qatar offically in a government capacity.

DJ25Q
DJ25Q
6 years ago
Reply to  MIMH

For the same reason you can not leave the country if you have unpaid traffic violation ( referring to expats ). SPONSORSHIP system at its ultimate beauty !!

Osama Alassiry
6 years ago
Reply to  MIMH

Espionage… Death penalty…

Rapha31
Rapha31
6 years ago
Reply to  Osama Alassiry

for the Philippine government… really?

adam
adam
6 years ago

Sickening & Disgraceful.

smd
smd
6 years ago

Yet another example of the “sick comedy” that is the Qatar Justice system and its judicial practices 🙁

DJ25Q
DJ25Q
6 years ago

How will you feel if you claim your right through the court,
attending a session after another for few month, to eventually hear the judge telling you that the court ( in which you had your case going on for few month ) has rejected your case subject is not a matter of the the concerned court?
In my case it took the judge 6 month to decide ( luckily he didn’t travel for vacation at that time ), so, no wonder for Villaggio it may take more time ( 2 years and counting )
A late justice is far worse than injustice.

fullmoon07
fullmoon07
6 years ago

Mediocrity at its best!!!
And the “fanny side” is that they find excuses from before (the Italian manufacturer, the American lab)…if things were not built properly than Civil Defense should have said it long before. These are excuses and lack of respect for the families of the victims.

hohum
hohum
6 years ago

The Qatari judicial system is seriously broken. When I was going through the system I had to sit and wait through a ridiculous 50 prior hearings. These cases were frightening to watch how quickly they went through the courts. Many of these cases nobody appeared to testify or present anything. My impressions were they were simply going through a process with no regard to justice. When a court room this small holds 50 different hearings in a morning session how do you expect justice to ever be served.

I would not wish this process on anyone.

DJ25Q
DJ25Q
6 years ago
Reply to  hohum

This is common in some countries, were the defendant GAINS TIME, by simply not showing up for the court. Been in your shoes, and totally feel your pain.

hohum
hohum
6 years ago
Reply to  DJ25Q

Its particularly frightening when your freedom depends on it.

Mitch Lawrence
Mitch Lawrence
6 years ago
Reply to  DJ25Q

You are spot on. I have a Filipino girl in the office who simply wasn’t paid by her previous employer. She received an NOC from the Human Rights Commission, so the system worked in that regard. But she still hasn’t been paid. Her former Qatari sponsor has not shown up to 5 hearings now. By not showing up, he seems to be able to drag things with impunity. In what country can you simply not show up for legal proceedings and face no repercussions?

The Reporter
The Reporter
6 years ago

Shameful. Disgraceful and any other similar words that exist. But yet again a demonstration of how little Qatar cares how the outside world sees it.

BigDaddyDK
BigDaddyDK
6 years ago

There are no words to describe my disgust and contempt for this whole situation.

Kahuna
Kahuna
6 years ago

http://youtu.be/EGFp7saTQEU

Halls of Justice Painted Green

Money Talking

Power Wolves Beset Your Door

Hear Them Stalking

Soon You’ll Please Their Appetite

They Devour

Hammer of Justice Crushes You

Overpower

The Ultimate in Vanity

Exploiting Their Supremacy

I Can’t Believe the Things You Say

I Can’t Believe

I Can’t Believe the Price You Pay

Nothing Can Save You

Justice Is Lost

Justice Is Raped

Justice Is Gone

Pulling Your Strings

Justice Is Done

Seeking No Truth

Winning Is All

Find it So Grim

So True

So Real

Apathy Their Stepping Stone

So Unfeeling

Hidden Deep Animosity

So Deceiving

Through Your Eyes Their Light Burns

Hoping to Find

Inquisition Sinking You

With Prying Minds

The Ultimate in Vanity

Exploiting Their Supremacy

I Can’t Believe the Things You Say

I Can’t Believe

I Can’t Believe the Price You Pay

Nothing Can Save You

Justice Is Lost

Justice Is Raped

Justice Is Gone

Pulling Your Strings

Justice Is Done

Seeking No Truth

Winning Is All

Find it So Grim

So True

So Real

Lady Justice Has Been Raped

Truth Assassin

Rolls of Red Tape Seal Your Lips

Now You’re Done in

Their Money Tips Her Scales Again

Make Your Deal

Just What Is Truth? I Cannot Tell

Cannot Feel

The Ultimate in Vanity

Exploiting Their Supremacy

I Can’t Believe the Things You Say

I Can’t Believe

I Can’t Believe the Price We Pay

Nothing Can Save Us

Justice Is Lost

Justice Is Raped

Justice Is Gone

Pulling Your Strings

Justice Is Done

Seeking No Truth

Winning Is All

Find it So Grim

So True

So Real

Seeking No Truth

Winning Is All

Find it So Grim

So True

So Real

Jaded
Jaded
6 years ago

Unbelievable, just when you think you’ve heard it all in this case

Chilidog
Chilidog
6 years ago

That idiot who killed the Filipino family with his car should take notes. If the “fires are a normal occurrence” argument works then he should use the “car wrecks are a normal occurrence” argument. This is obviously a tongue in cheek comment, but the notion that this argument and others like it are even brought up for consideration (who could forget “she fell on a knife?”) shows how far the Qatari justice system is from actually being taken seriously by anyone with half a brain.

Saleem
Saleem
6 years ago

This is just ridiculous, I really feel for the families who are seeking closure but are instead being washed of every penny they have waiting for this to end.

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