Riga supermarket collapse investigation head steps down

  • 2013-12-18
  • From wire reports, RIGA

Janis Kazocins has stepped down following controversial comments

The head of a group investigating the collapse of a Riga supermarket which left 54 people dead, has stepped down following controversy over pay.

Janis Kazocins, Zolitude Tragedy Commission head, resigned after members estimated that 150,000 lats was required to ensure the groups operations and salaries. Kazocins said on December 16 that such funding would be disproportionate.

His calls sparked controversy from members of the public including attorney Aldis Gobzems, a member of the "Don't Be Indifferent, Be Responsible!" movement who said the need for remuneration was shocking.

"I, attorney representing the victims of the Zolitude tragedy, are calling on the public not to trust a public investigative commission that is established pursuant to such principles. We urge society to express distrust of the commission. Thousands of volunteers have proved the contrary - offering assistance without remuneration is possible," said Gobzems earlier this week.

Kazocins admitted poor communication during the commission's establishment made the public question the commission's true goals.

"I also want to admit that, when commission members heard out some of the Zolitude tragedy victims about the provision of aid, I wrote a premature letter, wanting to drawing attention to potential deficiencies in providing assistance to the victims and their relatives. The letter contained unverified data and I take full responsibility for it," said Kazocins.

"I apologize to all those unjustifiably offended by the letter. I believe that I cannot be part of the commission without public support. Therefore I want to inform you that I am stepping down as the commission's board chairman for the commission to continue work," he added.

The Cabinet of Ministers approved Kazocins as the head of the commission on December 10. He was invited by Prime Minister Dombrovskis.

The commission also includes former Riga Regional Court Judge Inara Steinerte, businesswoman Baiba Rubesa, Transparency International-Latvia ("Delna") [now former] council chair Inese Voika, NGO representatives and independent experts. State administration and law enforcement representatives will also take part in the commission's work.

Its goal will be to assess the direct and indirect causes of the tragedy, the rescue process, the efficiency of rescuers, police officers and medics, officials, as well as construction regulations in civil defense.

The commission will submit interim reports to the prime minister once per quarter. Its final report will be submitted to the government, reports LETA.

A total of 54 people died and several dozen were injured  after the Maxima supermarket in Riga's Zolitude neighborhood collapsed on November 21.