Shanghai official sentenced to 16 years for fatal high-rise fire

A top Shanghai construction official and his builder buddy were both sentenced to 16 years in prison on Tuesday for their key roles in the November 15 high-rise fire that killed 58. Shanghai No.2 Intermediate People’s Court also punished 24 others including the unlicensed welder who sparked the fire.

Gao Weizhong, former director of Jing’an District Construction and Transport Committee, was found guilty of abusing power and accepting bribes and held most responsible for the catastrophic construction project on Jiaozhou Road.

Huang Peixin, manager of Shanghai Jiayi Building Decoration Engineering Company that subcontracted the work, was sentenced to 16 years for violating construction safety regulations.

Wu Guolüe, 26, an unlicensed welder from Jiangsu Province, received a one-year sentence with two years’ probation, with his assistant exempt from punishment. Wu had been working without a proper license and no fire extinguisher, Shanghai prosecutors believed. Wu testified at trial he had been unaware that the nearby insulation materials were flammable.

“Of course the welder should not be held responsible for the disaster,” Wang Hong, who lost his mother and wife to the fire, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

The punishments for Gao and Huang weren’t severe enough, said Wang, who went to court with dozens of other fire survivors on Tuesday.

“Gao’s decision to start the project was in defiance of the law and regulations at the beginning,” Judge Jiang Zhen announced in court on Tuesday. “He chose an unqualified contractor before bidding and later made sure it got the bid. It was abuse of power. Therefore, he should take major responsibility for the fire, which claimed 58 lives and injured 71.”

A total of 26 people in total from Shanghai government departments and construction companies who were held responsible for the deadly blaze appeared on Tuesday for sentencing.

Yao Yaming, former vice director of the committee, received five years in prison for abuse of power. Two other staff members were each sentenced to 13-and-a-half years for abusing power and taking bribes, the court announced.

Global Times

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