Two charged in relation to tragic hostel fire

A criminal case has reached Riga City Court in which two persons have been charged in connection with the fire in the illegal hostel two years ago, the prosecutor's office said.

Nine people were killed in a fire in an illegal hostel on Merķeļa Street 8 in April 2021. Rescuers evacuated 24 people. 

In the fire, the structure of the roof of the building, located above one of the hostel's apartments, was severely damaged and some of the rooms were completely destroyed.

After the fire, police detained a total of six people, but later two individuals remained in suspect status, including businessman Ernests Rieksts.

According to the indictment of the Prosecutor of the District of Riga, two men, in agreement with each other, decided to extend an already existing economic activity related to the provision of accommodation services for payment in Rīga. Both parties decided to purchase two adjacent real estate properties and to carry out reconstructions in order to accommodate a large number of people at the same time, ensuring their stay in separate facilities.

One of the defendants, on the other's encouragement, purchased two adjacent apartment properties that were later transferred to the other accused, who in turn organized and managed them arbitrarily, with unauthorized renovation of the apartments, adapting and setting up 34 separate rooms in them, so that 34 to 68 persons can be housed at the same time, thereby creating a hostel.

Between the month of October 2019 and April 28, 2021, one of the defendants engaged in the provision of accommodation services to individuals, without registering economic activity and without specifying its scope. In this way, he took systematic action on remuneration and gained income from which no tax was paid, thereby inflicting significant losses on the State budget.

During that time, one of the accused, knowing that the property belonging to him has undergone an arbitrary conversion to operate a hostel, did not comply with the measures specified in the relevant regulatory enactments in order to ensure fire safety in the whole property owned by him on Merķeļa Street 8, Riga.

On the morning of April 28 2021, a fire broke out in one of the hostel rooms, resulting in a variety of fire-related injuries – burns of the body and airways, poisoning with CO and burning substances, which subsequently caused the death of eight people and another one later at the medical establishment.

As a result of the fire, personal belongings at the hostel were destroyed at the value of thousands of euros. Similarly, the two-slip roof of the building belonging to the community of the owners of the multi-apartment residential building was destroyed, with all its structures causing material damage of tens of thousands of euros.

The maximum punishment provided for in the Criminal Law for business without registration, if it has caused material harm, shall be deprivation of liberty for a period of up to three years, while the intentional violation of the rules on fire safety, if it has been committed by a person responsible for compliance with these regulations, and if it has caused the death of two or more people - the deprivation of liberty for a period of up to eight years.

The case has been referred to Riga City Court.

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