Four former senior officials – including ex-defence minister Costas Papacostas – were yesterday found guilty by the Larnaca Criminal Court of manslaughter in connection with the 2011 Mari blast that killed 13 people.
Former defence minister Papacostas, fire services chief Andreas Nicolaou, deputy fire chief Charalambos Charalambous and fire services disaster reaction unit (EMAK) commander Andreas Loizides were found guilty of charges relating to negligent manslaughter, dereliction of duty and acts which caused bodily harm, in connection with the explosion at the Evangelos Florakis Naval Base in Mari.
Papacostas was found guilty of manslaughter, a charge that will lead a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. The three other people who found quilty will face up to 4 years in jail.
“We have no doubt the defendant was aware of the risks… but closed his eyes to the danger,” presiding Criminal Court Judge Tefkros Economou said in his verdict while claiming that Charalambous and Loizides were also aware of the dangers being posed by the cargo.
Reports said Papacostas collapsed later Tuesday and was being treated at Nicosia general hospital.
The three judge panel will pass sentencing after the final mitigation pleas of the defence and summing up by the state prosecution on July 24. All four men will remain in police custody until then.
Former foreign minister Marcos Kyprianou and National Guard deputy chief Savvas Argyrou, were both acquitted.
Relatives of the victims, who had turned up in numbers at the court on Monday, were angered by the verdict claiming all the defendants “and many more” should go to prison for life.
The blast was the worst peacetime disaster.
In open storage on the base were 98 containers of 120 mm, 122 mm, 125 mm, 160 mm high explosives, 7.62 mm shell casings, compressed gunpowder, silver dollar-sized slugs, primer, and magnesium primers that had been seized by the United States Navy in 2009 after it intercepted a Cypriot-flagged, Russian owned vessel, Monchegorsk, travelling from Iran to Syria in the Red Sea. A UN sanctions committee said the cargo contravened a ban on Iranian arms shipments.
According to leaked US cables through WikiLeaks, released in 2011, the US through Hillary Clinton exerted pressure on Cyprus to confiscate the shipment. The ship was escorted to a Cypriot port and the Cyprus Navy was given responsibility for the explosives, which it moved to the Evangelos Florakis a month later.
The explosion severely damaged hundreds of nearby buildings including all of the buildings in Zygi the island’s largest power station, responsible for supplying over half of Cyprus’ electricity. As a result, much of Cyprus was without power in the immediate aftermath of the incident and rolling blackouts were initiated in order to conserve supplies.