It will take another four months for Qatar’s Court of Appeal to decide whether to uphold or overturn the guilty verdicts of several individuals facing jail time after the deadly 2012 Villaggio Mall fire.
Following the final appeal hearing this week, a judge – citing the court’s workload and upcoming summer recess – set a verdict date of Oct. 26. That’s nearly two years after the appeal proceedings first got underway.
In June 2013, a lower criminal court convicted five people for their roles in the shopping center fire that killed 19 individuals, including 13 children. All of the victims died of smoke asphyxiation after being trapped inside an upstairs daycare center called Gympanzee.
Villaggio’s chairman, the mall manager and Gympanzee’s two co-owners were all convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to the maximum penalty of six years in prison.
A fifth defendant, a municipal government employee, was convicted of forgery for renewing Gympanzee’s permit without visiting the premise in person and sentenced to five years in prison.
All remain out of prison pending the appeal verdict, leading to the current trial that concluded with two sessions of closing arguments earlier this month and this week.
The defense lawyers who spoke on Monday blamed the media for “blowing things out of proportion” after the fire, which allegedly compelled the prosecutor to search for scapegoats to put on trial.
The attorneys also focused on two questions that have recurred during the appeal hearings:
- Given that the mall fire was caused by the faulty wiring of a fluorescent light in the mezzanine of Nike, why was the sporting good store, its owners or employees not charged?
- Was Gympanzee an improperly licensed nursery, as prosecutors and several parents argue, or a drop-in recreation area for children, as the co-owners’ defense attorney asserts?
The latter distinction matters, parents previously told Doha News, because if Civil Defense officials had known children were inside when the fire first broke out, they could have worked to get them out more quickly.
‘Say the truth’
The lawyer representing Gympanzee’s owners also introduced a new argument in an attempt to absolve his clients of responsibility for the 19 deaths. He argued that most of the children who were killed actually died in an ambulance or in hospital – not at the mall itself.
He based this on television footage showing CPR being performed on victims as they were taken out of the mall, as well as the fact that the autopsies were performed late that evening. The fire had broken out in the morning.
The attorney did not say how either suggestion conclusively proved the time of death of any of the victims. His theory also appeared to contradict the official investigation results and outraged several people who lost family members in the fire.
“Untrue!” Raghda Kabbani told Doha News after the hearing. She lost her daughter, three-year-old Hana Sharabati, in the fire. “This is just categorically untrue. I saw with my own two eyes the bodies of children and adults in a blue cover on the ground outside the mall.”
The same sentiment was expressed by the uncle of another victim, three-year-old Yusuf Shata, who voiced his displeasure in the middle of the court session.
“I was there. They were all dead, my nephew included,” he said. As guards started to remove him from the courtroom, he yelled at the judge, “Fear God and say the truth for once.”
The judge instructed the guards to allow the man to remain in court.
Mall manager’s role
The lawyer representing Villaggio manager Tzoulios Tzouliou presented several arguments in his closing arguments specifically related to his client.
He said Tzouliou moved to Qatar after the mall was constructed and mostly leased. Tzouliou, the attorney said, did not sign the lease with Gympanzee.
Furthermore, the lawyer said it was not the manager’s job to go back and review the government license of each business in the mall and compare it to their actual activities.
The lawyer also said the lower court made several errors in assigning blame to his client. For example, he said Villaggio’s firefighting hoses were of a sufficient length and not too short as the verdict said.
“My client did not leave or flee. He put his life in danger … (and) did all he could to make sure the mall was evacuated,” the attorney said, arguing that Tzouliou – like Villaggio’s assistant mall manager and head of security, both of whom were found not guilty by the lower court – should be exonerated.
The lawyer for municipal government employee Mansour Nasir Fazzaa al-Shahwani submitted his closing arguments in writing, telling the court that his client should have his conviction overturned.
I’m just sitting here open-mouthed and wondering how you over-react and ‘blow out of proportion’ the needless and untimely deaths of young children? Words genuinely fail me …. what thought process do you go through to come up with this conclusion?
Not too many I’m afraid..
Frankly, reading defence attorneys’ totally illogical arguments in various cases in Qatar (also elsewhere) scares me. If this is how highly ‘educated’ people think and behave, what hope is there for any justice, any grip on what is right and true and what is wrong and untrue? Alas, their clients often have the same disconnect between understanding their actions and the consequences.
It seems to be par for the course in Qatar courts to make a mockery of justice though. You’re appalled, yes, but you can’t say you’re all too surprised, can you? Remember the “reenactment” video in the Patterson murder trial? The fabricated autopsy in the Huang’s trial? The policeman that only recognized the name scrawled in blood after he learned the suspect’s name? I don’t think rational thought enters into the equation much, if at all…….
Yes all cases which you sat through the court hearings and gathered this information from
You’re absolutely right, I wasn’t there (I hope I never have to set foot in a Qatari courtroom). I got my info from DN and other news sources. Are you suggesting these ridiculously atrocious examples didn’t actually happen? If so, I think that could put those news sources in serious legal trouble for making Qatar’s courts look stupid. If not, then Qatar’s courts did it to themselves.
The problem with many commentators is you rely on dn and accept what’s written as fact … Sometimes I read what’s written here which is usually reported two or more days after the local Arabic papers read them and do nothing but place my palm on my forehead … Also believe courts don’t care much about what dn or any other news outlet has to say… dn is limited to expats and unfortunately the courts and the state couldn’t care less what expats think or whether correct information is being reported …
I’m not saying all dn reports is false… There is a lot of truths to it… But more often than not reports are intentionally being taken out of context or full stories are not being given
I certainly won’t argue with you on your comment. The list of languages I can read to comprehension doesn’t include Arabic. This limits my options in Doha, and I understand that (and don’t have anyone else to blame for it). Like every news outlet, DN has its formula, and it works for its target audience to generate clicks.
That being said, I trust DN’s content for accuracy way more than the local English newspapers run by the government (GT, Peninsula). Those two are laughably biased to tell you about the glory of the state no matter what the truth is. And unless something makes the headlines of the CNN/BBC/Reuters level, there aren’t many other options for day to day news in English, or are there?
“The defense lawyers who spoke on Monday blamed the media for “blowing things out of proportion” after the fire”
19 people die including 13 children and he can say this? What would be considered a disaster to this man? He probably considers Islamic States as a minor irritant and it will all blow over soon….
The convicted in this case will probably all be dead by the time a decision on the appeal is reached
Then we have this
“The lawyer representing Gympanzee’s owners also introduced a new argument in an attempt to absolve his clients of responsibility for the 19 deaths. He argued that most of the children who were killed actually died in an ambulance or in hospital – not at the mall itself”
Yes, ambulances are known as very dangerous places. I think this man should be on trial for impersonating a lawyer and spitting on the graves of dead kids.
That one is pretty dumb. I wonder if he thought about why they were in the ambulance in the first place. Must have received his law degree in North Korea.
These defence lawyers are an absolute disgrace and an embarrassment to their profession. To blame the media for ‘blowing things out of proportion’ is disgusting and deeply insulting to the bereaved families. The judge should have sanctioned them for such an inflammatory and disrespectful statement.
As opposed to ethical defense lawyers
Am I the only one who felt this?
Yes. You. Are. The. Only. One.
I scrolled back over the last 50 stories in Doha News. By my count 40 of them are “other news” and the remaining 10 are principally about the 5 topics you list.
Maths is hard.
It’s not “Other” news the parents of the dead children are waiting for.
It only seems that way because this what people comment on. These topics actually only take up about 5-10 percent of the news stories.
Are you seriously suggesting they not report on the fire, because you do not find it sufficiently entertaining? Easy way to fix this is for the convicted felons to be placed behind bars as per their sentence.
Learn to be critized
Wow, who ripped your heart out of your body and felt you cold, with no empathy for other human beings??
Whilst I think the correct people have been convicted, because whether they like it or not they all bear some responsibility, I can’t help feeling unease at the court process which seems to include elements of the ridiculous, yet fails to coherently explain the basis of the convictions in ways that I as a property professional would recognise, or maybe it’s just the way that DN has reported it over the last two years. One does wonder how many of those who knew of Gympanzees existence ever wondered whether it was legal or not (both municipal and Villaggio employees), and if they did what chance was there of them ever challenging an Al Thani about it. I’m sure lessons were learned from Villaggio, but I’m pretty sure that little has changed in the mentality of building owners that will result in real change.
I think partly the way it has been reported by DN, perhaps understandable as they have to keep their articles reasonably brief, but they also present a view which they believe will be popular with their readers.
This case ultimately will be decided based on applicable laws, regulations and evidence, that those laws and regulations were breached. I think by what has been seen in court, that both those criteria were in short supply, if indeed not existent.
Ultimately the rush to find people guilty in the primary investigation has lead to the prosecution overlooking evidence and resulted in letting down the families.
I would guess that Nike rented the space and the mall itself would be responsible for building code maintenance,such as faulty electrical outlets.
Educate yourself on what the standard is in Qatar to be lawyer or judge.
Thoughts? Yes I have loads of thoughts on this. None which you would be able to print DN.
Put them in jail and throw away the keys.. For six years