Villaggio fire hearing postponed a second time as Gympanzee owners were absent

A criminal hearing to determine responsibility for the deaths of 19 people during a fire at Villaggio mall four months ago took place this morning at the Lower Criminal Court in Al Sadd.

Representatives of Villaggio, an insurance company, the Ministry of Business and Trade and Civil Defense attended, but the hearing was postponed a second time because neither Iman Al-Kuwari, the owner of Gympanzee, nor her husband were present.*


UPDATE: Al-Kuwari’s husband is Sheikh Ali Bin Jassim Al Thani, Qatar’s Ambassador to Belgium. Contrary to rumors that they left Qatar because of the fire, a QNA report shows that his credentials for this post were accepted on March 14, 2012 – two and a half months before.

According to Gympanzee’s commercial registration, Al Thani is also its co-owner.

Al-Kuwari’s father is Dr. Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kuwari, Qatar’s Minister of Culture, Arts and Heritage.


After briefly deliberating in chambers on Thursday, a panel of three judges said they were postponing the hearing until Oct. 23 and would send official notices again to the homes of those who did not turn up. 

Several family members of those who died in the fire attended the meeting, some of them teary-eyed. The parents declined to comment on the result, but one person close to the families said he was encouraged after the hearing because many more representatives attended this time.

The court did not repeat the charges against the defendants during this hearing, but one of the several embassy officials from various countries who attended said there were some 100 charges filed against the numerous defendants on trial.

Meanwhile, the government has called for the formation of a second committee to look into the fire. The new committee will study the reports of its predecessor and submit its final recommendations to the Council within weeks, QNA reports.

Here are some of the earlier updates from the hearing:


Update | 11:08am

The hearing has indeed been postponed a second time until October 23 as two of the defendants – the owner of Villaggio mall and the owner of Gympanzee and her husband – were not present at the trial.*

A summons is apparently going to be sent to them a second time, although Gympanzee’s Iman Al-Kuwari is reportedly not in Qatar.

Update | 10:39am

The judge is in his chambers deciding what to say. He may postpone the hearing again due to the absence of one of the defendants, or he may make a decision on the case.

Representative from the US and South African embassies are present at the court.

Update | 10:30am

The court is now in deliberations.

Update | 10:20am

Right now they’re taking roll of who’s here, going over paperwork. Iman Al-Kuwari, the owner of Gympanzee, is not present.

Background 

Several parents of the 13 children who were killed in the May 28 fire gathered at the Lower Criminal Court in Al Sadd for the hearing today.

The court case was originally set for September, but was postponed when two of the defendants did not show up.

It is worth noting that the Lower Criminal Court deals only with minor offenses and misdemeanors.


Credit: Photo by Shabina S. Khatri

*Note: This story incorrectly stated initially that the two defendants who did not attend today’s hearing were the owners of Villaggio and Gympanzee. It has been amended to say the two absent defendants were the owner of Gympanzee and her husband.

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