Verdicts delivered in Zolitūde tragedy case

On February 18, 2020 – six years and three months after the catastrophic collapse of a Maxima supermarket roof – the Rīga City Pārdaugava Court passed down its verdicts for the defendants in the Zolitūde tragedy criminal case.

Just one person was convicted over the deaths of 54 people. Eight other defendants were acquitted.

The prosecutor has asked for seven years to six months of imprisonment and for all those involved in construction, and for them to be barred from taking positions associated with construction for five years.

The building’s civil engineer  Ivars Sergets  – responsible for the building structures was accused of making gross errors in the structural calculations, which directly led to the collapse. Sergets denied guilt, claiming that he wasn’t involved and didn’t sign off on the project drafts. He was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment, including the time he has already spent in custody

Store project construction expert  Andris Gulbis  – recommended the Zolitūde Maxima building project for approval. Accused of violating construction regulations and negligent homicide, Gulbis denied guilt and was acquitted by the court.

Construction supervisor  Mārtiņš Draudiņš  – accused of violating construction regulations and negligent homicide was also acquitted.

Arhitect  Andris Kalinka  – architectural firm Kubs board member was accused of violating construction regulations and negligent homicide. Kalinka denied guilt and was acquitted.

Re&Re construction manager Staņislavs Kumpiņš – accused of violating construction regulations and negligent homicide – denied guilt and was also acquitted.

Former Rīga Construction Board employees
The prosecutor had asked for five years of imprisonment for the former Construction Board employees, and for them to be barred from taking government or municipal institution positions for five years, except for the Maxima employee, who was requested to be barred from taking a position as a workplace safety specialist.

Former Rīga City Building Inspectorate Deputy Chair Jānis Balodis – accused of dereliction of duties as a public official, which resulted in severe consequences, denied guilt, saying that the committee he led that deemed the building operable didn’t see any problem signs after inspecting the building and evaluating the documents. He was acquitted by the court.

Former Legal Department Construction Supervision Department Expert Marika Treija – accused of dereliction of duties as a public official, which resulted in severe consequences was also acquitted.

Building Inspectorate Deputy Chair Aija Meļņikova – accused of dereliction of duties as a public official, which resulted in severe consequences was acquitted of the charges against her.

Maxima Latvija employee Inna Šuvajeva – accused of violating workplace safety regulations, resulting in the death and injury of several persons, was also acquitted.

The collapse of the flagship Maxima store in Zolitūde, Riga, on November 21, 2013, saw 54 people lose their lives, including three rescuers. The Riga tragedy was the largest loss of life since the restoration of independence in 1991. Dozens more were injured and their compensation was also a matter for the court. The prosecutor’s office recognized 263 people as victims of the collapse. The verdict in the criminal case runs to some 850 pages.

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Regīna Ločmele-Luņova, spokesperson for the “Zolitūde 21.11.” group representing the victims and their families, said she was deeply disappointed with the verdicts, which showed “the powerlessness of the Latvian legal system” and that the blame lay more with the lack of professionalism and effeciveness of prosecutors than with the judges.

“This means that the experts, the expertise that led to the public prosecution, was of poor quality. What happened? How could such a mistake be made?” she asked.

Speaking to reporters after a cabinet meeting, Justice Minister Jānis Bordāns said the verdicts were not likely to be seen as satisfactory by society at large, and questions about the trial process would need to be asked in order to learn lessons for the future.

Reading out the full verdict took several hours and also included a “side ruling” that makes it likely that legal action in connection with the tragedy will continue. Judge Erlens Ernstsons said he had invited invited the prosecutor’s office to press for the prosecution of employees who worked for the now-liquidated company Vikom Industry, which manufactured the metal structures which were involved with the collapse.

 

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