TAIPEI - Prosecutors in Taiwan charged five people Thursday with professional negligence for their role in constructing a massive apartment tower that collapsed in a February earthquake and killed more than 100 people.
The prosecutor’s office in Tainan, the city worst hit by the February 6 quake, filed charges against the developer, the head of his design department, two architects and an engineering technician. Investigators found they had played a part in the construction of Weiguan Jinlong, a 17-story housing complex built in 1989.
A 6.4-magnitude earthquake caused the giant housing complex to fall, killing all but one of the total dead. Another 550 were injured. It was Taiwan’s worst earthquake death toll since 1999, when a 7.6 magnitude quake killed more than 2,300 people.
Prosecutors began in February exploring who might have caused construction problems at the apartment tower, which was built partly with tin cans.
They found that defendants had taken shortcuts to save money, prosecutor’s office spokesman Chen Chien-hung said. They had altered beam-column joints and column sections in the 27-year-old building, he said. Construction shortfalls reduced the building’s lateral earthquake resistance by 16 percent, he added.
“The prosecutor decided that these five had committed the crime of professional neglect,” said Chen. “We hope that whatever the maximum sentence is the judge can impose that.”
The prosecutor is charging all five with professional negligence leading to grave harm or injury and recommending that a district court give each person the maximum sentence of five years in prison. Three of the five have been arrested.
The Taiwan quake had already prompted a review of building safety throughout Taiwan.
Last month the government released a soil liquefaction evaluation labeling swathes of land in eight cities and counties as highly at risk of letting structures collapses. The weakest areas cover about half of developed Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. The government had ordered inspections of all schools in February.
Officials said in March they would spend $735 million over the next six years on improvements.
Structures built in Taiwan before 1970 are at the most risk of collapse, quake experts say, followed by those built between 1970 and the quake of 1999. After the earthquake that year, construction standards became more rigorous.