PERM, Russia — The executive director of the Perm nightclub Khromaya Loshad /Lame Horse/ where 156 people died in a fire has pleaded guilty at the trial at Perm's Lenin district court. "I wish to tell the relatives of those who died on that terrible night that I'm bringing my apologies. Very many people died, and it's hard to live with this fact," Svetlana Yefremova said at the hearing on Tuesday, "I've given an honest account of my work at the club. I admit my guilt, and am ready to accept any punishment meted out by the court."
The fire at the Perm nightclub broke out overnight to December 5, 2009, as it was marking the first anniversary of its establishment. One hundred and fifty-six people died of carbon monoxide and other toxic combustion gases poisoning and another 65 suffered serious harm to health. The authorities recognized 404 people to be the victims within the criminal case.
On June 4, 2010, the Investigative Committee (SK) brought the finalized charges against eight people, including co-founder of the Lame Horse cafe Anatoly Zak, executive director Svetlana Yefremova, and art director Oleg Fetkulov.
They were charged with the commission of the crime covered by Article 238, Part 3 of Russia's Criminal Code (provision of services that fail to meet the requirements for the safety of life or health of consumers, which resulted, through negligence, in the death of two or more persons).
The firework show organizers (the Derbenev father and son) were charged with violating the rules for the use of explosives, flammable substances and pyrotechnic products.
Former chief regional fire safety inspector Vladimir Mukhutdinov was charged with abuse of office powers, and fire safety inspectors Dmitry Roslyakov and Natalia Prokopyeva — with negligence.
According to the SK, the fire broke out during the show with the so-called "cold fireworks." At first, foam plastic that lined the ceiling caught fire. The investigators also blamed the improper performance of duties by fire inspectorate personnel, who had failed to expose various violations of the fire safety regulations at the cafe.
The prosecutors said the guilt of all the defendants had been proven and asked the court to sentence them to two to ten years. They demanded the toughest penalty for Anatoly Zak, the co-owner of the nightclub.
Zak earlier conveyed his condolences to the victims' families. He refused to admit his guilt and asked for softer punishment. "They made a scapegoat of me, and slated me for punishment. I've long understood that it's my cross and has been bearing it for the fourth year running," he stated.
He also claimed Yefremova had slandered him during the investigation. "But I believe her testimony was given under duress; she had spoken about psychological pressure," he added.
The injured parties asked for the maximum jail terms for the defendants.
"We, the injured parties in the Lame Horse fire case, are very indignant at the position taken by the prosecutor for the state on the jail terms for defendants Yefremova and Prokopyeva. We believe the penalties are too soft, and do not match the gravity of the act. We respectfully ask the court to review the case equitably and analyze the evidence of the defendant's guilt while being guided by law and conscience. For us, it is the last attempt to be heard."
"Lame Horse" co-owner Konstantin Mrykhin was detained in Spain and extradited to Russia. On May 14, 2012, Perm's Lenin district court sentenced him to 6.5 years in a general regime penitentiary and ordered to pay 200 million roubles in compensation to victims.
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