Victims' families set up 400 white chairs in a main street near the court in memory of the deceased, and hung signs that warned: "If there is no justice, the people will rise up."

Edgar Sanchez, the chief prosecutor, said he was satisfied with the outcome, despite having asked for 25 year terms for the three men.

"My conscience is clear. I've done my job," he said.

Asphyxiation

Most of the almost 400 victims died from asphyxiation as thick smoke spread through the supermarket in the capital Asuncion.

"This shows that in this country, people with money can kill with impunity"

Bersabe Meza,
who lost her husband in the fire
About 2,000 people were in the packed building, many of them families with young children, when the fire broke out. During the trial, the defendants said they shut the customers in to stop them from looting.

The court criticised the elder Paiva for neglecting the overall safety of the public as chief owner of the property, and his son was singled out as responsible for the food court area where experts believe that the flames began due to inadequately maintained equipment.

The defendants will remain free until their appeals are completed.

"This shows that in this country, people with money can kill with impunity," Bersabe Meza, who lost her husband in the fire, said.

An earlier trial that ended in December 2006 with five-year-prison sentences for each of the defendants was annulled by the supreme court because the uproar of the outraged victims' families cut short the reading out of the sentences.