Villaggio fire trial postponed after lawyers ask Nike to be charged; defendants plead not guilty

Not guilty. 

That was the plea entered by all defendants in today’s criminal hearing to determine responsibility in the Villaggio fire deaths, which was attended by everyone facing charges.

But the trial was postponed until Dec. 19 after defense lawyers asked judges to bring charges against Nike Corp., whose shop is where the mall fire originated. Civil Defense and insurance company representatives were also requested to be added to the list.

Prosecutors opposed the move, but judges said it would be taken under consideration.

Investigation

According to Qatar’s fire investigation report, the “fire began in the mezzanine at Nike sportswear store due to a faulty electrical wiring in the fluorescent light, which led to the ignition of its plastics components before falling to the goods made by flammable materials.”

The fire spread and trapped 13 children and four teachers in daycare center Gympanzee, which eventually killed all those inside, including two firemen, when it filled with smoke.

The report also mentioned that Nike employees failed to extinguish the fire, and that the investigation committee could not confirm the presence of sprinklers in the store.

However, the report further states that Villaggio’s security also could not control the fire, and concluded that there was:

A “lack of adherence to required laws, systems, and measure by all concerned parties to different degree. This includes adherence to design, license, and safety conditions, which contributed to Villagio catastrophe.”

Tears

Emotions ran high during today’s hearing, which was held in a different, larger courtroom than the previous four.

The beginning of the proceedings after so many delays and the presence of Gympanzee owner Iman Al Kuwari, who attended for the first time, caused some of the victims’ relatives to grow teary-eyed and console each other with reassuring pats. 

The defendants, which included Al Kuwari and her husband, the ambassador to Belgium, four Villaggio mall officials and an employee of the Ministry of Business & Trade, stood in the courtroom for more than half an hour as their lawyers argued on their behalf.

In reaction to the postponement, relatives said their expectations had been low to begin with, but it seems progress has been made.

Nike

With regards to who was responsible for the fire, one relative said, “I don’t care (about Nike). It’s still their mall.”

A few weeks after the May 28 fire, Nike released the following statement, but has not updated its remarks since then:

Nike is deeply saddened by the deaths three weeks ago at the Villagio Mall in Qatar and our sympathies go out to the families involved. 

Nike is aware that the investigative report into the fire has been completed by local authorities and the Nike store, owned and operated by our Middle East distributor, was part of the investigation. Nike is seeking further clarity around a number of elements raised in the report before providing further comment.”

During next month’s trial, witnesses, including some of the victims’ relatives, will be called.

Thoughts?

Credit: Photos by Shabina S. Khatri

This post previously incorrectly listed that Civil Defense and insurance representatives were defendants in the fire hearing. It has been corrected to reflect that lawyers are asking they be charged.

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