Lincoln Mansions victimsbalk at High Court ruling

Soldiers search through the wreckage of Lincoln Mansions, a housing development in Hsichih, Taipei County, destroyed by a landslide following heavy rains on Aug. 27, 1997, in which 28 people died. The Taiwan High Court yesterday overturned or reduced lower court verdicts that gave heavy sentences to contractors and officials found responsible for the disaster.

The Taiwan High Court has reduced sentences for those found responsible for the Lincoln Mansions disaster. Residents of the ill-fated buildings call the decision `incredible'
By Irene Lin

Builders and government officials were given reduced sentences yesterday by the Taiwan High Court, partially reversing a lower court decision finding them responsible for the death of 28 residents at the Lincoln Mansions disaster in Taipei County.
Residents of the ill-fated buildings, who have fought for compensation since the disaster in 1997, called the ruling "incredible," and challenged the court's rulings.
"It's such an obvious and outrageous example of corruption links between the contractors and the officials. How could the court take it so lightly?" said Chou Chih-chuan (周志全), a Lincoln Mansions resident and one of the legal action organizers.
"Throughout the process of negotiations, we residents have been disappointed by the irresponsible attitude of the builders and the government agencies. A lot of the residents have felt so hopeless that they're on the verge of killing themselves," Chou said.
"People say the disadvantaged can have their rights protected in court. But I doubt it really," Chou said.
The Lincoln Mansions was a housing complex with over 1,000 units in Hsichih, Taipei County. Built on hillside land, the complex suffered mass damage after rain from a typhoon caused the collapse of a retaining wall behind the complex.
Twenty-eight people were killed by the collapse of several buildings and over 300 units were destroyed in the disaster. Residents of other units subsequently moved out of the complex when serious construction faults were found in the buildings after the accident.
An investigation by the prosecution found that the contractors and the designers of the complex were responsible for the accident.
Also, the investigation identified 13 Taipei County Government officials who forged documents confirming building standards in the licensing process.
The Shihlin District Court convicted 18 defendants -- five builders, one designer and twelve officials -- in 1998, while acquitting a defendant who was an official. Sentences ranged from two to 10 years prison terms.
However, the High Court reversed the lower court decision yesterday, reducing sentences for most of those convicted in the construction fault case.
The contractor for the complex, Lee Tsung-hsien (李宗賢), who was originally sentenced to 10 years and six months in jail, had his sentence reduced to four years and five months by the High Court yesterday.
The jail sentence for the designer of the residences, Lu Chung-yao (盧正堯) was reduced to eight years and six months from the original nine years and 10 months.
Moreover, the High Court found not guilty eight of the 12 previously convicted officials on the grounds of insufficient evidence. Sentences for the other guilty officials ranged from five years to seven years in jail.
Lee, the number one target of the residents' legal actions, was found guilty by the district court under charges of profiteering, falsification of documents and professional manslaughter.
However, the High Court cited a supreme court precedent in quashing Lee's profiteering charge, suggesting the charge can only be used against public servants.
An addition to the criminal proceedings, the Lincoln Mansions residents have filed civil suits against the builders and also filed requests for state compensation.
Negotiations have also continued between representatives of the residents, the builders, and the government, with meetings taking place every month.

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