(To watch footage taken outside the courtroom after the verdict was announced, go to http://videos.cyprus-mail.com/reactions-to-mari-verdict-july-9/)
By George Psyllides
The Larnaca criminal court on Tuesday found four people guilty, including former defence minister Costas Papacostas, for the deaths of 13 people killed in a naval base munitions blast on July 11, 2011.
Papacostas was found guilty of manslaughter, a charge that carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
He was found to have direct responsibility over the safe-keeping of the munitions.
“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 at a hearing attended by dozens of relatives clutching photos of the victims.
Reports said Papacostas collapsed later Tuesday and was being treated at Nicosia general hospital.
The three other guilty parties are fire service chief Andreas Nicolaou, deputy chief Charalambos Charalambous, and Andreas Loizides, the commander of the disaster response squad EMAK.
They were found guilty on the lesser charge of causing death due to a reckless and dangerous act and face up to four years in jail.
Former foreign minister Markos Kyprianou and National Guard deputy commander Savvas Argyrou were acquitted.
The court said Kyprianou had no “authority over the cargo, he was handling the political dimension of the problem, implementing the policy of the President of the Republic.”
Kyprianou’s brother Achilleas declined to comment on the verdict.
“Our thoughts are with the victims and the relatives,” he said.
The four guilty defendants will remain in custody until July 24, the date set by the court for the mitigation hearing.
The court’s decision to acquit the two defendants angered the victims’ relatives.
“They will not escape divine judgement,” said Eleni Tandi, sister of fireman Spyros Tandis.
Another relative suggested that former president Demetris Christofias should have also been on trial.
“The main guilty party was missing from the courtroom,” she told reporters.
A public inquiry found Christofias politically responsible for the explosion, but the constitution affords him immunity from prosecution.
The munitions had been seized from the Monchegorsk, a Syria-bound Cyprus-flagged ship that sailed from Iran.
They were confiscated in February 2009 after it was determined they were in breach of United Nations Security Council resolutions on Iran.
They had been stored at the Evangelos Florakis base in 98 containers that were left exposed to the elements until the day they exploded, killing seven sailors and six firemen.
The blast also caused significant damage to the island’s biggest power station, located next door, which had a crippling effect on the economy.