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AG says no re-opening of Mari case despite requests by families for more prosecutions

Costas Clerides

Attorney-general (AG) Costas Clerides said on Sunday he respects the pain of the relatives of the Mari naval base blast, but that he did not want to comment on his decision not to continue investigations for possible criminal offences against former president Demetris Christofias.

In total 13 men died, seven sailors and six firemen, on July 11, 2011 due to the explosions caused by munitions haphazardly stored in 98 containers, at the Evangelos Florakis naval base in Mari, next to the Vassiliko power station, which was almost destroyed in the blast.

The AG told the Cyprus News Agency he did not wish to further discuss his decision, following criticism against him and the government from the son of Mari victim base commander Andreas Ioannides, Nicolas, at his father’s fifth anniversary memorial service on Sunday.

In the aftermath of the blast, then President Demetris Christofias appointed lawyer Polys Polyviou to investigate the causes that led to the tragedy.

Polyviou had found Christofias to be mainly responsible, while the respective foreign and defence ministers, Marcos Kyprianou and the late Costas Papacostas, were also found culpable. Christofias though, rejected the findings and accused Polyviou of overstepping his mandate.

Papacostas who died in September 2015, was jailed for five years after being found guilty of manslaughter but spent most of that time in hospital due to ill health and advancing age. Senior fireman Charalambos Charalambous and Andreas Loizides, former commander of the disaster response team EMAK had been jailed for two years for causing death due to reckless and dangerous acts.

Fire service chief Andreas Nicolaou was jailed for two years but the sentence was later overturned by the Supreme Court and he has since returned to his post. Former minister Kyprianou, who was also charged in connection with the incident, was acquitted. The verdict was later upheld by the Supreme Court.

“There was a trial at the Criminal court, appeals have been filed, there was the Polyviou report, which is specifically referred to the responsibilities of Christofias, and of (the National Guard chief) Lieutenant Colonel Giorgos Georgiades,” Nicolas Ioannides said. “Those responsibilities have not been thoroughly investigated, nor have these two brought to court”.

What the families want, Ioannides said, was for these people to be brought to justice so that “the souls of the victims are laid to rest”, but to also create a precedent “for the people to feel that the arbitrariness of officials will be punished”.

He added that the families would continue their efforts for criminal responsibility to be attributed to those involved.

Ioannides, and three other families, had requested from the AG in February, to further investigate the possibility of criminal offences against Christofias and Georgiades, but Clerides rejected their demand.

In his letter to the families, published on Sunday by Simerini, Clerides cites as reasons, unsatisfactory evidence and also the factg that this would not serve the public interest.

“It would be too difficult in principle to revise the decision taken by my predecessor, after consideration of all data … as to which persons should be included in the registered indictment,” Clerides’ letter said.

It added that “in our view there is not sufficient evidence available, which would justify the inclusion in the indictment of … Christofias and/or Mr G. Georgiades for their involvement in the disputed facts, nor we believe that some comments made in the Criminal Court decision provide a strong enough foundation for their legal liability”.

The decision taken following the appeal does not provide any means of opening a new procedure against these persons, the letter said.

“Finally, I do not think that the public interest would be served… with the registration at this late stage of a new case based on the same facts against persons who could have been included in the indictment of the old case… it was deemed that the available evidence did not justify this and there are no objective grounds for differentiation of this ruling,” the AG’s letter said.

Simerini reported that the families were prepared to take to the European Court of Human Rights if the government did not satisfy their demand.

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