Saudi ministry ‘wanted crane removed months before tragedy’

Project manager did not act on advice despite assurances, official tells investigators – report

The Saudi Finance Ministry has claimed that it advised for the giant crane at Mecca’s Grand Mosque to be removed 10 months before it came crashing down last September resulting in 107 deaths and many injuries.

According to a report in the Saudi Gazette daily, the ministry, which represents the government in the mosque’s expansion projects, told the Bureau of Investigation and Public Prosecution (BIP) set up by the kingdom to probe the disaster that it stopped reimbursing expenses for the crane 10 months before the accident because the equipment was no longer considered useful.

The BIP has interrogated an official from the ministry three times during the past few months, the daily reported. The official disclaimed any responsibility of the ministry in the accident and said it had asked for the crane’s removal but the project manager, despite assurances, did not comply.

The official, an engineer whose name has not been revealed, said he was responsible for following up the expansion project with its contractor, the Saudi Binladin Group, and to make payments but had nothing to do with the safety measures in the project, the report said.

Fourteen people are on trial in the case, reported to be six Saudis including a billionaire, two Pakistanis, a Canadian, a Jordanian, a Palestinian, an Egyptian, an Emirati and a Filipino. The defendants are accused of negligence, damaging public property and ignoring safety guidelines, the report said; their names have not been revealed.

According to the report, 170 employees of the Saudi Binladin Group have been questioned by investigators in the probe. Forty-two others were also under investigation, including 16 members of the Binladin family, but no charges have been brought against them.

The 1,350t crane collapsed onto the Grand Mosque amid unusually strong winds on September 11 last year bringing down slabs of concrete on worshippers below.

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