A lower criminal court in Doha today found four men responsible for the deaths of 11 people killed in a restaurant gas explosion last year, and has ordered them to serve time in prison.
The fatal blast, which occurred last February, ripped through Istanbul Restaurant – a Turkish eatery located in a petrol station complex next to Landmark Mall– and also injured 42 others.
The restaurant was closed at the time, but an investigation found that the gas leading to a pizza oven had been left on overnight and was ignited by a spark from a nearby refrigerator.
In addition to jail time for the defendants, the court ordered blood money be paid to the relatives of the deceased, and compensation to the injured in amounts that varied from QR600 to QR12,000.
The four who were convicted had faced charges of involuntary manslaughter, involuntary/accidental harm and the damaging of property belonging to others. They include:
- A Woqod supervisor accused of failing to tell the company’s distribution department to stop supplying the restaurant with gas as maintenance work was carried out there;
- A Qatar Gas supervisor accused of connecting the restaurant’s new gas line without seeking a safety compliance certificate;
- The restaurant’s baker, who is alleged to have failed to turn off the gas valve of the oven; and
- The restaurant’s accountant, who is accused of not checking to make sure all the gas valves in the restaurant were securely closed before leaving for the night.
The first two defendants were ordered to serve five years in jail, and the restaurant employees face two-year terms.
Last month, defense attorneys argued that the prosecutor had failed to arrest “the real culprit.”
During his closing arguments, an attorney representing the Qatar Gas employee argued that his client wasn’t the one who connected the gas line, and that the fault lies with the restaurant’s manager, who instructed one of his employees to hook up the gas.
Meanwhile, prosectors alleged that the Woqod supervisor should have stopped new gas delivers to the restaurant because it did not have the proper safety certificates. He failed to do this however, and Woqod refilled the restaurant’s 1,000-liter rooftop tank the morning of the explosion.
But last month, his lawyer argued that there was no relationship between his client’s actions and the explosion and asked that he be found not guilty.
After handing down the verdict this morning, the criminal court also referred various claims to Qatar’s civil court system, a necessary step to pursue financial compensation lawsuits.
The cases are being filed by lawyers representing victims of the explosions, their families and the owners of property damaged in the blast.
While the monetary value of each claim is not known, one lawyer previously said he was seeking QR15.12 million (US$4.15 million). That suggests the total sum sought by all claimants is much higher.
The defendants maintained their innocence throughout the trial and will likely pursue appeals, but those won’t be handled until after the summer break is finished and court resumes in the fall.