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Borough chief Sheinbaum announces criminal complaint. Borough chief Sheinbaum announces criminal complaint.

Criminal complaint over school’s collapse

School's owner, ex-officials named in case regarding school in which 26 died

A Mexico City borough chief has filed a criminal complaint over irregularities detected in the construction of an apartment on top of the wing of the Enrique Rébsamen school that collapsed in last week’s earthquake, killing 26 people including 19 children.

Claudia Sheinbaum, who heads the southern borough of Tlalpan where the school is located, lodged the complaint yesterday with the Mexico City Attorney General’s office.

It names senior legal officials from the administrations of former mayors Higinio Chávez and Maricela Contreras as well as the school’s owner, Mónica García Villegas. The officials have been accused of negligence by not acting on warnings about the building.

However, Sheinbaum said it extended to anybody who is found to have been responsible for the irregularities.

The complaint is based on evidence found in the legal file, which Sheinbaum described as “truly infuriating.”

In November 2013, the Public Works and Urban Development department of the Tlalpan government warned that structural damage had been caused by demolition work at the school. The owner had carried out the work on the third and fourth floors of the building without obtaining the necessary approvals.

Despite that warning, the administration at the time allowed the work to continue a year later, essentially dismissing the evidence that the extension to the building was endangering its structural integrity.

Sheinbaum said that they had considered the possibility that corruption had played a part.

The irregularities detected go back even further.

As early as 2010 the administration of former borough chief Higinio Chávez ordered the closure and demolition of construction on the fourth floor — supposedly a gymnasium — because it too had been built without obtaining the relevant approvals.

But according to the complaint lodged there is no evidence or documentation that the Chávez administration carried through with the order.

In October 2013, the school’s owner made another application to carry out minor work but it was rejected due to the detection of structural damage.

“. . . at the time of the technical analysis it was observed that work to demolish reinforced concrete structures on the third and fourth floors were damaging structural elements that affect the stability of the building,” a letter from the public works director to the then legal director read.

However, when local authorities inspected the building in December 2013 they found evidence that García Villegas had started construction work without permission to do so.

In January 2014, the local government suspended the work.

But in December 2014, after García Villegas had paid a 21,000-peso fine (US $1,150 at today’s exchange rate), she was granted permission to carry out the so-called minor work she had previously applied for despite the earlier detection of structural damage.

Consequently, she continued with the building of the apartment, which because of the extra weight and pressure it placed on the structure has been considered the cause of the building’s collapse.

Sheinbaum said that legal responsibility could also extend to two officials responsible for construction work, one of whom signed off on the structural integrity of the building in 2014 and another who verified its safety earlier this year.

Source: El Universal (sp)

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