By Elias Hazou
THE ATTORNEY-general has advised government departments to initiate disciplinary action against officials who took part in discussions about the munitions containers stored at Mari naval base.
The move comes hot on the heels of last week’s ruling by Larnaca Criminal Court which found former defence minister Costas Papacostas guilty of manslaughter for the death of 13 people. Three top fire service officials were found guilty of the lesser charge of causing death through a reckless and dangerous act.
The other two defendants, former foreign minister Marcos Kyprianou and deputy National Guard commander Savvas Argyrou, were acquitted.
According to daily Politis, the AG is urging disciplinary proceedings against Leonidas Pantelides, former director of the President’s diplomatic office (and currently Cypriot ambassador to Geneva), the permanent secretary of the defence ministry Christos Malikkides, and Lieutenant Colonel Giorgos Georgiou.
The three had testified at the trial. In its ruling, the court noted that their testimonies were either not credible (Pantelides), skewed (Malikkides) or disingenuous (Georgiou).
It’s understood the AG is drawing on the court’s observations as the basis for recommending disciplinary action against the three.
Regarding Pantelides, the court said it was unconvinced by his contention that then Present Demetris Christofias had tacitly consented to a proposal for a controlled destruction of the munitions, after repeated warnings that the containers posed a real danger.
In his testimony, Pantelides said that he took Christofias’ silence as tacit consent for the munitions’ destruction. However, the court noted in its verdict, Pantelides also testified that he did not relay the President’s position – as he claims to have understood it – during a meeting held on February 7, 2011.
At that meeting, the then defence minister and other officials had voiced grave concerns over the status of the cargo. If ever there were a time when Pantelides ought to have communicated the President’s view on having the munitions destroyed, that should have been it, the court said. Instead, Pantelides did not air the President’s views, restricting himself to expressing his personal opinions on the matter.
In its verdict, the court observed that Pantelides’ claims were implausible, and concluded that, based on the evidence before it, Christofias “gave no such assent” [for a controlled destruction of the munitions].
On Malikkides, the court noted that he sought to downplay his perception of the risks posed by the cargo, following a briefing on July 5, 2011. That meeting took place after one of the 98 containers at Mari was found to have bulged.
Moreover, the court felt that Malikkides suffered from selective memory, recalling certain things that were said at that meeting but forgetting others.
The court was also not impressed with Colonel Georgiou’s account of the July 5 meeting – which he attended – and its immediate aftermath.
It remarked that Georgiou’s testimony sought to “assist Costas Papacostas, rather than reveal in court all the real facts of the case.”
Further, the court drew attention to Georgiou’s attempt to ‘predate’ notes he had kept of the same meeting. Taking the stand, Georgiou said no official minutes were kept of the meeting, so he had compiled his own handwritten notes. He finished compiling the notes on July 12, but dated them July 7.
The AG’s letter has reportedly been delivered to the ministries of defence and foreign affairs and to the secretariat of the Cabinet. In it, the AG urges the departments to initiate disciplinary proceedings straight away.
The AG has been accused of botching the prosecution of the case, in particular his decision to use as state’s witness Colonel Giorgos Georgiades, the man responsible for storing the munitions. In its ruling, the court said Georgiades’ testimony was “inherently suspicious and doubtful” and chose not to use it against the defendants.