Day care owners guilty in Qatar mall fire case

Last updated 23:10 20/06/2013
Weekes triplets
QUESTIONS REMAIN: The Weekes triplets, Jackson, Willsher and Lillie, who died in a fire at a mall in Doha, Qatar.

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Five people have been found guilty on involuntary manslaughter charges laid over the Qatari mall fire last year that killed 19 people, including New Zealand triplets.

The New Zealand triplets killed were Lillie, Jackson and Willsher Weekes.

"We are pleased with the judges decision," their parents Martin and Jane Weekes said in a posting on the triplets' Facebook page. The couple announced earlier this year that they were expecting twins.

Qatar's ambassador to Belgium, Sheikh Ali Bin Jassim Al-Thani, and his wife Iman Al-Kuwari were sentenced to six years in prison and were ordered to pay the victims' families blood money. The couple owned the day care where 13 toddlers were killed and she was the manager . The ambassador is also a member of Qatari royalty.

Two other defendants - the chairman of the Villaggio mall, Abdul Aziz Mohammed Al-Rabban, and the mall manager, Tzoulios Tzouliou, were also sentenced to six years in prison on the same charge and ordered to pay blood money, a court spokesman said.

Another accused, Mansour Nasir Fazzaa al-Shahwani, from the Ministry of Business and Trade, was sentenced to five years. He was responsible for giving Gympanzee its permit. Two other mall employees were cleared of charges against them.

The Doha News said a judge has also deemed that the standard "blood-money" of QR200,000 per victim be applied as part of the verdict. This will be paid by Villaggio's insurance companies to the families of the victims.

A  joint statement from all of the families welcomed the verdict, whilst still calling for the release of the official report into the fire.
The statement said: "We are pleased that the court has chosen to find five people responsible. Today is a day to remember. To remember the 19 innocent people, including 13 of our beautiful children, killed last year in Villaggio.

"We are still awaiting to know what happened on 28 May 2012. The trial only gave us some answers. We still have more questions."

The courtroom was packed this morning, with many of the victims' families inside to hear the verdict in person.

When the "guilty" verdict was announced, Abd Elmasseih Antonios, father of two year old Evana, told Doha News he wanted to jump to his feet with joy, and that one of the other parents had to calm him down.

Sources inside the court told the Doha News that Sheikh Ali Bin Jassim Al Thani and Iman Al-Kuwari left the court room before the verdict was read out.

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During the trial, witnesses testified that the government had been fining Villaggio repeatedly since 2008 for using a highly toxic, flammable paint in its mall decorations.

The court also heard that sprinklers, which would have stopped the smoke, didn't appear to be functioning. It heard that Villaggio officials did not respond to requests from the fire alarm and sprinkler system companies to perform much-needed maintenance on the mall equipment, as recently as the week of the fire.

Qatari law says that defendants have two weeks to appeal the verdict, meaning that they can walk free from court until their application for an appeal is accepted or denied

Al Jazeera English quoted court officials who say the appeals process could last between eight and 12 months, during which time all of the defendants will be free.

- Stuff

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