Cyprus Mail
Cyprus

Military’s hands were tied, Mari appeal argues

Vassiliko power station (Mari) on the day of the explosion

NO ONE was in charge of monitoring the state of the munitions cargo at Mari naval base ahead of the July 2011 explosion, the attorney-general’s office told the Supreme Court on Monday.

Nonetheless, responsibility for the proper upkeep of the cargo can and must be identified, argued state prosecutor Polina Efthyvoulou.

She was making her arguments during an ongoing appeals process before the top court, where the attorney-general’s office is seeking harsher sentences for some of the persons convicted for the deadly blast which killed 13.

The containers were seized by customs in early 2009 from a Cyprus-flagged ship en route to Syria and subsequently delivered to the naval base. According to Efthyvoulou, the cargo was consigned neither to the national guard nor to any other agency, and it was not logged in the army’s computers.

Though the freight was placed under the care of the national guard, the latter was in charge of security alone.

Asked by the court whether the army regardless was obligated to look after the cargo, Efthyvoulou said the military’s hands were tied.

“A royal order was handed down, but the guard dogs were put on a leash,” she said, citing a Greek adage.

She submitted that the military, which had no responsibility for the safekeeping of the munitions, even wanted to “rid itself” of the cargo.

“The republic was the owner of the cargo. It was all a muddle, no one was responsible,” the state prosecutor said in her arguments.

Efthyvoulou said the minutes of the contentious cabinet meeting – where it was decided to confiscate the cargo – do not exist or are not available. However, she noted, on February 12, 2009 then-defence minister Costas Papacostas issued an announcement stating merely that the government had decided to seize the freight and place it at Mari naval base.

The state prosecutor went on to argue that Marcos Kyprianou – foreign minister at the time in question – ought to bear administrative – and thus legal – responsibility for the cargo.

Last year the criminal court found that Kyprianou had no authority over the cargo, and that he was handling the political dimension of the issue, implementing the policy of the president.

The attorney-general’s office is appealing the criminal court’s decision which had cleared Kyprianou of the charge of causing death through reckless and dangerous acts.

It is also appealing the earlier acquittal of two other persons of the charges of manslaughter, and is seeking longer jail sentences for three persons found guilty of causing death through reckless and dangerous acts.

During the trial last year, Papacostas was declared guilty of manslaughter. He was found to have direct responsibility over the safekeeping of the munitions.

The appeals process at the Supreme Court resumes on April 14.

The munitions at Mari exploded on July 11, 2011, killing seven sailors and six firemen. After being confiscated in 2009 from a Cyprus-flagged ship en route to Syria, the containers were stacked in an open space at the naval base and left exposed to the elements until the day of the explosion, despite repeated warnings of the risks as well as visible signs of deterioration.

 

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