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5 on trial over deadly tower block inferno

FIVE people, four of them former government officials, stood trial in Shanghai yesterday on charges arising from the Jiaozhou Road inferno last November which engulfed a residential building and claimed 58 lives. Gao Weizhong, former director of Jing'an District Construction and Transport Commission, ex-deputy director Yao Yaming, and their two subordinates, Zhou Weimin and Zhang Quan, were charged with abuse of power and taking bribes. Feng Wei, manager of the Jinshan Tianyi Construction Material Department, was the fifth defendant at the trial in Shanghai No. 2 Intermediate People's Court. He faced charges involving bribery and responsibility for the blaze. Gao admitted abuse of power and accepting about 120,000 yuan (US$18,553) in bribes. He is said to have approved the renovation of the building although it had not been included in energy-saving renovation projects by the Jing'an District government in 2010. He is also said to have proposed that Jing'an Construction Co should win the bidding and that it should subcontract the project to the Shanghai Jiayi Building and Decoration Engineering Co, which, prosecutors said, was not qualified to carry out the 30 million yuan project. Gao told the court that renovation project had been proposed by the residents living in the building. To make sure that the construction of a nearby public housing project could start as scheduled, he allegedly agreed to their proposal and regarded it as compensation for the residents because the new project would bring them some inconvenience. According to an official investigation, the fire was caused by two unlicensed welders, and it also revealed illegal subcontracting and a lack of supervision. Prosecutors said Yao, who was in charge of the renovation project, deliberately failed to inform the district's professional supervision body about it, which meant there was no proper supervision in place. Yao told the court that he had misunderstood certain regulations and thought such a project did not need to be reported. Prosec! utors sa id Zhou accepted cash and shopping cards valued at 125,000 yuan from small business owners he helped to take part in the project. He was also said to have helped Jing'an Construction Co to win the bidding. Zhang and Feng are said to have accepted more than 720,000 yuan from a businessman they helped gain construction and decoration work. The hearing is set to continue today and tomorrow. The five defendants are among 28 officials and company workers who received Party or administrative penalties after the November 15 inferno. A total of 26 people, including the five in court yesterday, face criminal charges.

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