By Staff reporter
THE Supreme Court yesterday began hearing the appeals on behalf of three persons who earlier were handed jail sentences over the July 2011 explosion at a naval base in which 13 people lost their lives.
The appeal hearings concern former defence minister Costas Papacostas, senior fireman Charalambos Charalambous and Andreas Loizides, former commander of the disaster response team EMAK.
Papacostas, previously found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to five years in prison, maintains that he was not informed of the explosion at Mari naval base until after the incident. In its verdict, the criminal court had said Papacostas bore direct responsibility over the safekeeping of the munitions. The maximum penalty for manslaughter is life.
Charalambous and Loizides were sentenced to two years jail for causing death due to reckless and dangerous acts.
On July 11, 2011 munitions stored at Mari naval base exploded, killing seven sailors and six firemen. The blast also damaged a nearby electricity plant, leading to rolling power cuts.
The munitions had been confiscated in 2009 from a Cyprus-flagged ship en route to Syria. They were then stacked in an open space at the base and left exposed to the elements until the day of the explosion, despite repeated warnings about the risks.
In court yesterday, Charalambous’ attorney argued his client was not formally informed that the munitions were in Cyprus until July 5, due to the secrecy imposed on the matter by the army.
Loizides’ defence is that he arrived on the scene – on instructions from Charalambous – only a minute before the blast and thus cannot be blamed for negligence.
A fourth appeal has been lodged by senior fireman Andreas Nicolaou, also given two years for reckless and dangerous acts that led to casualties.
Meanwhile the Attorney-general’s office – which prosecuted the high-profile case – is itself appealing the prior acquittal of former foreign minister Marcos Kyprianou of the charge of causing death through reckless and dangerous acts. The AG is also appealing the clearing of Charalambous and Loizides of charges of manslaughter; the AG argues that the two ought to have ordered the timely evacuation of the naval base.
In addition, the AG’s office is challenging the jail time handed to Loizides, Charalambous and Nicolaou, where it believes the criminal court was too lenient.
The appeals process at the Supreme Court continues today with the arguments of Nicolaou’s defence lawyer and the arguments of the Attorney- general.