Argentina's Court of Justice on Wednesday convicted and sentenced a club owner to 20 years in prison for a deadly club fire that killed 194 people but absolved the band that had played the night of the tragedy.
The incident happened in December 2004, when a fire broke out in the overcrowded Republica Cromañon rock club in Buenos Aires. Many of the exits to the building were illegally closed.
Omar Chabán, the manager of Cromañón was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his responsibility in the fire that killed 194 people and injured more than 1500 people. The judges said their vote was unanimous.
The members of rock band Callejeros, Patricio Fontanet, Juan Carbone, Cristian Torrejón, Elio Delgado, Daniel Cardell, Eduardo Vázquez, Maximiliano Djerfy, were meanwhile acquitted on charges of paying bribes and for their responsibility in the fire. Diego Algañaraz, their former manager, was convicted to 18 years in prison.
The City court rejected the annulment requests presented by the defence. Fabiana Fiszbin, former head of Buenos Aires City Community Safety Watchdog, and her secretary, Ana María Fernández were sentenced to two years in prison for malfeasance for overlooking safety controls that exacerbated the tragedy.
Raúl Villareal, Chabán's right hand, will serve sentence to one year in prison and community service for being indirectly responsible for the bribes paid to the police.
The defence of the accused had already said they would appeal the adverse rulings. The victims' lawyers, who hold the members of Callejeros responsible for promoting the use of fireworks during their shows, which caused the fire, would file appeals.
All of the people who were sentenced will be free while they wait for the result of the appeals. Chabán is not allowed to leave the country or to leave his house for more than 24 hours straight.
The verdicts were announced one year after the beginning of the trial and almost five years after the incident. Originally fifteen people had been accused, including officials of the Buenos Aires City administration of Mayor Aníbal Ibarra, of being directly or indirectly responsible for the death of the 194 people in the fire.
Ibarra himself had been charged with the fire and impeached. However, he was later acquitted by the courts, which said the former mayor could not be responsible for the actions of all the officials of his administration.
Chabán and Callejeros were partners in the organization of the concert, held in December 2004, in which around 3,000 people were let in, despite the place's maximum capacity of 1,031 people.
Fireworks and flares were lit by the public (a common practice in Argentine rock concerts then) and the roof caught fire. After the blaze broke out, the emergency doors were locked to avoid people getting in without paying, trapping the audience inside. The fire, the smoke and the locked exit doors sealed the fate of 194 of the attendants.
The night before the verdicts the victims' relatives had gathered outside the Court House, where they kept vigil around a large cardboard panel with the victims' names. Relatives' groups lit candles and attached flowers to each of the victims' photographs.
Riot police was forced to intervene because following the verdicts there were calshes and fist fights outside the Court House between fans from the Callejeros group and relatives of the victims.