Six years since the Zolitūde tragedy in Latvia - lengthy proceedings continue

It’s been six years since the Maxima supermarket roof collapse in Zolitūde in which 54 people lost their lives. However the ongoing criminal case resulting from that dreadful event continues to frustrate victims' families and loved ones, reported Latvian Radio November 21.

Some of those close to the deceased wish to avoid discussing the issue and devote a quiet moment to remember their loved ones, others no longer have hope of receiving answers. Many don’t hide their anger over the lengthy court process and are still adamant that the issue still needs to be discussed.

Ineta Jakovele lost her daughter Elga, but since she lives and works in Daugavpils, she isn’t able to actively attend the hearings. Still, she impatiently awaits the outcome because of her daughter.

“I don’t like that the job is left unfinished, the process should be much faster. (..) This is how I see it – if the courts don’t find anything or find anyone guilty, then we won’t have any kind of security in this country either. People won’t feel responsible, which will signal that they don’t have to take responsibility,” says Jakovele.

Imants Burvis lost his son Andrejs in the tragedy and attended the hearings for the first half year. “I wanted to see who’s in attendance. So it is – boys and girls shift in their chairs, the court holds proceedings, then goes to deliberate."

"Someone gets sick, someone doesn’t show up, hearings are postponed. I have things to do, but to go to court to show the nation some sort of theater, that it’s happening, I don’t find that necessary,” says Burvis.

The "Zolitūde 21.11" organization points out that eight relatives of the deceased have already passed away themselves without witnessing the end of the trial. Several of the victim’s relatives have asked the municipality to create a proper memorial in Zolitūde, where currently only a temporary memorial commemorates the victims.

This year there won’t be a large-scale public event to commemorate the victims of the tragedy as a protest against the lengthy proceedings. The victims will gather at the temporary memorial on November 21 at 17:30 in silence with portraits and posters of the victims in their hands.

Rīga Mayor Oļegs Burovs (Honor to Serve Riga) and Rīga City Council Member Anna Vladova (Harmony) have expressed interest in attending the event. The organization has not been contacted by the Chancellery of the President.

As previously reported, the trial resulting from the Zolitūde supermarket cave-in started on December 8, 2015, more than two years after the deadly roof collapse of a Maxima supermarket that took 54 lives on November 21, 2013. The hearing was held in the Ķīpsala International Exposition Center and conducted by the Rīga Zemgale District Court.

It was held outside court buildings as the court didn't have facilities for admitting the several hundred people involved in the trial, and the dozens of relatives of those killed wishing to attend. The scale of the trial is unprecedented in Latvian legal history.

Also reported, nine people currently face accusations. Five of them are accused of violating construction rules and of manslaughter. A further three officials face accusations for negligence and one defendant is accused of violating work safety guidelines.

Almost 150 court meetings have been held within the past four years. By way of his secretary, judge Erlens Ernstsons told LTV that about 400 people have been interrogated, including 12 experts, victims, witnesses and the accused. 

In parallel to the court proceedings, Maxima Latvija has agreed to pay €100,000 to the victims' families for every person in their family that died.

Dzintra Zemintāne, the judge for the Zolitūde criminal case is currently still on leave, so a reserve judge may be brought in to continue proceedings, Pārdaugava Court Chair Adrija Buliņa announced at a press conference on Tursday, November 21. Zemintāne has been on sick leave since the middle of September, which means 20 hearings have been postponed. The case is predicted to close during the first half of 2020.

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