First witness called in Villaggio fire appeal case

villaggio sign

Omar Chatriwala

With reporting from Riham Sheble

The appeals process for the deadly 2012 Villaggio fire has officially commenced, six months after a lower court sentenced several Qatar residents to jail time for their role in the tragedy.

Hearings had previously been postponed due to the absence of some of the defendants, but all five who were found guilty of involuntary manslaughter last June appeared in Qatar’s Court of Appeals on Monday.

They are:

  • Sheikh Ali Bin Jassim Al Thani, co-owner of Gympanzee and Qatar’s Ambassador to Belgium;
  • Iman Al-Kuwari, manager and co-owner of Gympanzee, and daughter of Qatar’s culture minister;
  • Abdul Aziz Mohammed Al Rabban, Villaggio mall owner;
  • Tzoulios Tzouliou, Villaggio mall manager; and
  • Mansour Nasir Fazzaa al-Shahwani, Ministry of Economy and Commerce.

During Monday’s session, defense attorneys grilled a Civil Defense official for several hours about the technical details of the fire, in which 19 people suffocated after being trapped in an upper-level daycare.

A second witness could not be deposed because the first session of questioning took longer than expected, and the next court hearing has been scheduled for two weeks from now.

Discouraged

The slow pace of the hearing disheartened some of the relatives of those killed in the fire, who spoke to Doha News after attending the court session.

Louie Aban, the husband of Maribel Orosco, one of four Gympanzee employees killed in the fire, said:

“It is really frustrating how long this is taking. We are starting from scratch all over again. By the looks of it, we will be in this for another year or two before we get a result.”

Aban, who took his toddler back to the Philippines last year because it was too difficult to care for him while working in Doha after his wife’s demise, added, “The only reason why I am still in Qatar is to see this trial through. I miss my son terribly.”

Ragdah Sharabati, mother of Hana, one of the 13 children killed in the fire, said:

“Anyone in our situation would not have had the patience to wait endlessly. But we are perseverant and will see this through.

What saddens me is that it is like the Villaggio tragedy is all forgotten now. People meet us and think that the trial is over or that we gave up. It’s a struggle, yes, but we are in it until the end, even if we get frustrated and upset. If anyone is counting on any of us giving up, let me tell you this: We won’t.”

Meanwhile, despite a court order to the convicted defendants to pay blood money to the victims’ families following the June verdict, no payments have been made, and that issue is now tied up in a separate court procedure.

The appeals court will hold the next hearing on Jan. 20.

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