Former National Guard chief Petros Tsalikides was sentenced to seven years in prison by the Military Court of Athens on November 17 for his role in the events leading to the explosion at the naval base in Mari in 2011 that killed 13 people.
However, immediately after the sentencing the retired officer appealed the verdict and was released until the appeal court makes a decision. The military appeal court is expected to proceed with this speedily.
The full decision of the five-member court, which is expected to be written up by Christmas and will outline the reasoning behind the verdict was taken unanimously. The trial lasted just four days.
Law enforcement authorities in Cyprus have for years requested his extradition from Greece so they can deal with the question of his guilt in a Cyprus court.
The July 11, 2011 blast was caused by munitions haphazardly stored at the Evangelos Florakis naval base. The munitions, stored in 98 containers, 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.
Beyond the loss of life, the blast incapacitated the island’s biggest power station, located next door, which had a crippling effect on the already ailing economy and meant that during the peak of the summer heat people in many areas of Cyprus were left without electricity.
The disaster saw former defence minister Costas Papacostas jailed for five years after being found guilty of manslaughter.
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 Marcos Kyprianou, who was also charged in connection with the incident, was acquitted. The verdict was later upheld by the Supreme Court.
Tsalikides did not attend the trial in Cyprus opting to leave for Greece instead.
He had argued from the outset that he did not consider himself responsible for the tragedy and explained that he resigned from the army after the incident as the “minimum that he could do in homage of the lives lost.”
The former national guard chief had recognised the dangers and informed the foreign ministry, but he should have insisted on the removal or storage in a safe place of the containers, the Greek court announced after the sentencing.