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Prison sentences of 4 years and more for deadly gas blasts in Taiwan’s Kaohsiung

Longest jail terms for city officials

The scene after the 2014 gas explosions in Kaohsiung.

The scene after the 2014 gas explosions in Kaohsiung. (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – A total of 12 city officials and company managers received prison sentences of 4 years or more Friday for the gas explosion which killed 32 people and injured more than 300 in Kaohsiung in 2014.

Appeals were still possible against the Kaohsiung District Court verdicts.

A propene gas leak in an underground industrial pipeline which had not been inspected for more than 20 years was thought to be at the origin at the blast. It took hours to shut off the pipeline, with the first explosion occurring shortly after, just before midnight on July 31, 2014.

Fireballs ripped open at least four streets in the city’s Qianzhen and Lingya districts, threw cars and motorcycles up in the air to land on top of houses, and swallowed up firetrucks, while causing major electricity, gas and water cutoffs. The 32 fatalities included seven firefighters and rescue workers.

One of the heaviest sentences issued by the Kaohsiung District Court Friday was for the current city government’s secretary-general, Chao Chien-chiao (趙建喬) who received a term of four years and ten months, as did two former city engineers. At the time, Chao headed the maintenance office of the city’s Public Works Bureau.

The former chairman of LCY Chemical Corporation (李長榮化工), Bowei Lee (李謀偉), was sentenced to four years in jail. He was present in court Friday, and reportedly immediately expressed his disagreement with the ruling, promising to appeal.

Similar prison terms were handed down to five employees of LCY, ranging from a factory manager to a control room operator, the Central News Agency reported.

Three staff members of China General Terminal and Distribution Corporation (CGTD, 華運公司), the company responsible for transporting LCY’s gas through the pipelines, were sentenced to four years and six months each.

The investigation into responsibility for the disaster included the questioning of 510 witnesses and took 140 days, while the court took another three years before reaching Friday’s verdict, according to CNA.

Not only did neither LCY nor CGTD check or repair the pipelines, but on the evening of the disaster, LCY still asked CGTD to step up the amount of gas it was sending through the tubes, investigators said.

Accusations of negligence against opposition Kuomintang chairman Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), who served as mayor of Kaohsiung when the pipelines were installed, and against presidential secretary-general Chen Chu (陳菊), who was mayor when the explosions occurred, were dismissed by prosecutors.

The relatives of the fatalities and a total of 63 out of 65 people severely injured during the blasts had reached compensation agreements, CNA reported.