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Case closed against architect in 2004 Moscow water park tragedy-1

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MOSCOW, September 5 (RIA Novosti) - Moscow Prosecutor's Office said Tuesday it had closed a criminal case against the architect at the center of a fatal roof collapse at a popular water park in February 2004.

A total of 28 people were killed, including eight children, and more than 100 were injured when the glass roof of Transvaal Park in southern Moscow collapsed on February 14, 2004. The aqua-park opened in summer 2002.

A 20-month investigation into the case established that Nodar Kancheli, the chief designer in the Transvaal project, and Anatoly Voronin, the head of the Moscow project expert authority, were responsible for the tragedy at the futuristic glass and concrete center.

"The investigation materials prompt the objective conclusion that the partial collapse of the Transvaal Park's roof was caused by a series of design mistakes and grave architectural miscalculations in the building that failed to meet reliability and safety standards," the prosecutors said in their conclusion.

The architect has consistently denied any guilt and suggestions were made at the time of the tragedy that builders might have substituted construction materials for cheaper substances.

Kancheli was also questioned after the roof at a Moscow market he designed collapsed on February 25 this year, killing at least 60 people.

However, despite the evidence, the Transvaal case has been gathering dust ever since it was returned by a court for further investigation on February 6, 2006.

The prosecutor's office decided Monday to close the investigation into Kancheli under an amnesty dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the State Duma, the lower chamber of the Russian parliament.

"Nodar Kancheli's lawyer petitioned the prosecutor's office to stop a criminal investigation against his client due to an amnesty announced by the State Duma in April [2006]," prosecutors said in a statement today.

Kancheli's lawyer said the amnesty did not mean that his client admitted any guilt.

"My client has not been pronounced either guilty or innocent," Yury Kostanov said. "An amnesty does not clear a defendant of charges, but at the same time a person is not considered a criminal."

The lawyer said Kancheli had agreed to the case being closed on the basis that he would not seek to have his name cleared legally in the future.

"He turned 68, and although he is concerned about his reputation, his life is even more important," Kostanov said. "The alternative would be a long trial, which is not worth either the time or effort."

Igor Trunov, a lawyer for the victims of the Transvaal tragedy, said he might appeal the prosecutor's decision in court.

"We will decide on an appeal as soon as we get the investigator's statement," Trunov said.

"We do not agree with the decision of the prosecutor's office, which deliberately prolonged the case to the point where one of the defendants was amnestied," the lawyer said.

He also said Kancheli could still be open to civil action regardless of the amnesty.

The prosecutors said victims had the right to file lawsuits against the architect for material damages in compensation.

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