By Andria Kades
The family of former defence minister Costa Papacostas who died on Monday morning have called his death a “political murder”.
Found guilty of manslaughter, a charge that carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment two years ago for being directly responsible for the safe-keeping of the munitions that caused the explosion at the Mari naval base in 2011, he was kept under police guard at the Nicosia General Hospital.
His family said he was “held prisoner in a room for two years despite it being known that this worsened his health and his death was a matter of time.”
Papacostas resigned from his post as defence minister three days after the explosion. During the trial, presiding Criminal Court Judge Tefkros Economou said in his verdict, “we have no doubt the defendant was aware of the risks… but closed his eyes to the danger.”
Stressing their belief that the fact he was not released was incidental to his death, the family said they would do everything in their power to shine light on all those implicated “using every legal means both in and out of Cyprus.”
Former President Demetris Christofias, who most of the public hold responsible for what happened at Mari, said in a statement: “Papacostas paid a high price for mistakes that others committed and despite the huge health problems he faced, was sentenced to prison.”
The former president sought to stress that “I repeatedly asked the president (Anastasiades) to give Costa Papacostas a pardon based on his history and invaluable contribution to the country and because of the terrible state of his health as repeatedly recounted by doctors.
“Unfortunately my pleas were to no effect and Costa Papacostas was not granted a pardon. It seems that the reactions of the victims relatives mattered more that the necessary sensitivity and humanity that should have been demonstrated,” he added, expressing his deepest condolences to the family.
A public inquiry found Christofias politically responsible for the explosion, but the constitution afforded 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.
Fire service chief Andreas Nicolaou, deputy chief Charalambos Charalambous, and Andreas Loizides, the commander of the disaster response squad EMAK were found guilty on the lesser charge of causing death due to a reckless and dangerous act
Former foreign minister Marcos Kyprianou and National Guard deputy commander Savvas Argyrou were acquitted.