Saudi court jails 45 people over deadly Jeddah flooding

The Court of Grievances convicted 45 people who were sentenced to various jail terms totaling 118 years and six months.

A pile of cars in the Saudi coastal city of Jeddah on November 29, 2009 following a flash flood which killed more than 100 people. AFP Photo
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JEDDAH // A Saudi court has jailed 45 people including government officials in connection with deadly flooding that struck Jeddah five years ago.

The 2009 floods killed 123 people, left thousands homeless and provoked unprecedented outrage in the city.

King Abdullah sought legal action against officials and contractors for alleged corruption, mismanagement of real estate and land planning that exacerbated the inundation.

The court of grievances convicted 45 people who were sentenced to various jail terms totalling 118 years and six months, Arab News said on Monday.

Those sentenced were also fined more than $3.73 million (Dh13.7m) in total.

The newspaper provided no names but said the defendants included “high-ranking officials ... academics, engineers, businessmen and foreign workers”.

They were charged with offences including the payment and acceptance of bribes, forgery, misuse of public money, engaging in illegal business and money laundering, said Arab News.

The court acquitted 78 others who were also facing charges connected to the flooding.

A huge rainstorm struck Jeddah in November 2009 sparking flash floods.

But analysts have since said the several inches of water that fell were not by themselves catastrophic.

Haphazard construction in and around the city, along with an equally chaotic disaster response, are considered to have exacerbated the effect of the rainstorm.

Corruption has also been blamed with questions asked over why houses were built on floodplains.

Within days of the disaster, outcry in Jeddah reached fever pitch and the king promised to “identify those responsible and take action against them”.

More than 11,000 people joined a Facebook page in protest, accusing the city government and contractors of being at fault.

In 2010 the king then appointed a commission, headed by the governor of Mecca, to investigate what had led to the damage.

The first flood-related sentences were issued to a businessman and local official from the mayor’s office in May 2012.

About 10 people also died in 2011 when additional floods swept through Jeddah.

Since 2009 the Saudi government has carried out a number of major infrastructure projects in an effort to guard against such disasters, said Arab News. These include the building of seven dams, the expansion of existing canals in Jeddah, and the construction of a new canal near to King Abdulaziz International Airport north of the city.

A Crisis and Disaster Management Centre has also been set up, intended to formulate better policy.

* Agence France-Presse