Owner of school that collapsed in Mexico quake indicted

17 May 2019 / 10:49 H.

MEXICO CITY: The owner of an elementary school in Mexico City that collapsed in a 2017 earthquake, killing 19 children and seven adults, was indicted Thursday on homicide charges after construction irregularities were found at the site.

Monica Garcia Villegas, owner of the private Rebsamen elementary school, was arrested Saturday after she spent more than a year on the run. She will now face trial on 26 counts of culpable homicide, officials said.

“She is accused of allowing construction work at the school that violated existing regulations ... and may have led to the facility’s collapse and the victims’ deaths,“ prosecutors said in a statement after her arraignment at a Mexico City court.

The school was the focus of worldwide attention in the hours after the Sept 19, 2017 earthquake, as rescuers mounted a round-the-clock effort to find any survivors.

Rumors of a young girl trapped alive under the flattened complex soon evaporated, however, leaving only the grim toll of bodies beneath the rubble.

Garcia Villegas immediately went into hiding as reports emerged that she had built a big apartment with even a jacuzzi atop the school without obtaining the necessary construction permits.

Experts say the extra weight likely contributed to the building’s collapse.

Garcia Villegas became a symbol of the corruption that, according to activists and victims’ families, makes the toll of Mexico City’s frequent earthquakes even worse.

The watchdog group Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity published an extensive report last year documenting 28 cases of collapsed buildings where cost-cutting by owners and construction companies, combined with graft or incompetence by the authorities, amplified the tragedy of the earthquake.

The government had offered a reward of more than $250,000 for information leading to Garcia Villegas’s arrest, and she was on Interpol’s fugitive list.

Authorities say she was captured in Mexico City as she joined her father for lunch at a restaurant, though her lawyers maintain she turned herself in.

She was denied bail, and is being held in a Mexico City prison. — AFP

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