The Colectiv Tragedy: Has justice been served?

On 30th October 2015, the Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest burned down in one of the worst tragedies in the history of the European Union, immediately killing 27 people and injuring over 100. Investigation into the fire uncovered negligence at every level. In an all too familiar story, the club was filled above capacity and was allowed to operate despite not having adequate escape routes, let alone a fire safety permit.

The immediate aftermath of the tragedy was characterised by massive protests against the authorities for the failure to prevent the fire, bringing down the government led by Victor Ponta. But the full extent of the authorities’ failings would only become evident in the following months.

In a mysterious turn of events, the death toll continued to mount long after the embers were put out, rising to 65 as victims died in the care of local hospitals. This prompted a team of journalists to launch an investigation into the health authorities’ handling of the disaster, which would eventually uncover large-scale corruption dubbed the Hexipharma scandal.

Hexipharma was one of the biggest disinfectant distributors in the Romanian healthcare system. Tests performed on their products showed that they had been severely diluted, even up to the point of being 4,200 times less potent than the required standards. This led to the inadequate sanitation of care facilities, thus making them inappropriate for burn victims, many of whom died from bacterial infections. The CEO of Hexipharma was immediately put under investigation, but he died in a car crash a few days before giving testimony.

The proceedings were commenced against various officials, including the former mayor of Sector 5 (borough of Bucharest) and the owners of the nightclub, as well as the pyrotechnic company contracted for the night, whose negligence caused the fire. They received prison sentences ranging from 3 to 12 years, but have now appealed, counting more than 5 years since the proceedings have started.

The appeal has sparked significant backlash. Most recently, a group of 40 people, including relatives and survivors of the fire, has written to the Bucharest Court of Appeal. They emphasised that if the Court allows the appeal and agrees to the legal reclassifications solicited by the appellants’ representatives, their sentences will be diminished in such a way that would not reflect the real gravity of their acts.

The Courts have now passed the preliminary test, where even politically connected people were handed serious sentences at first instance, but the true measure of rightness in this case rests on the outcome of the appeal process. Will justice be served?

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