Manama: A Qatari court on Thursday sentenced four defendants in the case of fire at the Villaggio shopping complex to six years in prison.
A fifth defendant was sentenced to five years while two more were acquitted of all charges that followed the death of 19 people, mostly nursery children, in Qatar’s worst fire tragedy in modern times on May 28 last year.
According to reports in the Qatari capital Doha, Shaikh Ali Bin Jasem Al Thani, Qatar’s Ambassador to Belgium and co-owner of Gympanzee, the nursery where the tragedy occurred, was given the maximum sentence for the charge by the criminal court, Doha News reported.
The victims, all foreigners, included 13 children, four nursery employees and two firefighters.
They reportedly died from suffocation after they were trapped in the Gympanzee nursery while smoke from an electrical fire at a nearby shop spread.
Eman Al Kuwari, daughter of Qatar’s culture minister and co-owner and manager of Gympanzee, Abdul Aziz Mohammad Al Rabban, Villaggio’s chairman and Tzoulios Tzouliou, Villaggio’s manager, were also given six years in jail for involuntary manslaughter.
Mansour Nasir Fazzaa Al Shahwani from the Ministry of Business and Trade, was sentenced to five years for giving Gympanzee the permit.
However, Rima Itani, the mall’s assistant manager, and Ahmad Mohammad Abdul Rahman, the mall’s head of security, were cleared of all charges.
The case will be now reviewed by the Civil Court to decide blood money and financial compensation, expected to run in millions of dollars.
Doha News said that the courtroom was packed for the historic trial and that many of the victims’ families were present to hear the verdict in person.
Police officers in the courtroom had to call for quiet so that the full verdict could be read.
The victims’ families have reportedly welcomed the verdict in a joint statement.
“We are pleased that the court has chosen to find five people responsible,” they said. “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,” they said.
Under Qatari laws, the defendants have two weeks to appeal the verdict. However, legal experts have reportedly said that the appeals process could last between eight months and one year, during which the defendants remain free.