Saudi Bin Laden group skates on Mecca crane disaster that killed 110 people

In September of 2015, a huge crane operated by the Saudi Bin Laden Construction Group collapsed in Mecca during severe weather, killing 110 people and injuring 209 others.  After 16 months of investigation and several court hearings, the Makkah (Mecca) Criminal Court announced that it was dropping the case because it was not within its jurisdiction.

The court informed the defense team of the 13 people on trial, consisting of Ahmed Al-Qurashi, Attorney Hassan Jomaan Al-Zahrani and Abdullah Bin Laden, that it will inform them later of the date the legal decision will be formally issued.

Reports presented by the Bin Laden Group during the investigation and court sessions had shown that sudden changes in weather conditions, difficult to forecast, resulted in unusual winds, which in turn caused the collapse of the crane.

I’m not in the least surprised at the outcome – just that it took this long to absolve the Bin Laden Group using the flimsy legal excuse of a lack of jurisdiction.  It also seems the Saudi Arabian legal authorities have learned a lesson from FBI director James Comey when it comes to laying out a case for prosecution, then not charging the company for clear safety violations.   The Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution acknowledged that the severe weather was a factor; however, the bureau:

… indicated that the main cause of the accident was the fact that the crane was subjected to heavy winds and had been kept idle in the wrong position, in violation of the operation instructions issued by the manufacturer. (emphasis added)

According to the instructions, the crane’s main arm should have been lowered when not in use or during instances of heavy winds.

The bureau also pointed to the lack of compliance with safety standards in the operating procedures, no respect for the safety requirements, and poor communication and monitoring by safety officials responsible for the project during the poor weather conditions, despite warnings by the Presidency of Meteorology and Environmental Protection.

All of this comes on the heels of construction companies not being paid for several months, resulting in idle construction projects and massive unemployment of tens of thousands of expat workers.  Yet the Bin Laden Group was awarded the contract some three years ago to construct the Jeddah Tower for 1.2B USD and has seen no interruption in construction. 

So the powers that be sure don’t want to see its favored construction company prosecuted for safety violations or risk its financial well-being.  And if the Bin Laden Group’s safety record is any indication, I certainly wouldn’t set foot in a one-kilometer-high building.

John Smith is the pen name of a former U.S. intelligence officer.