Former defence minister Costas Papacostas has become the second man in as many days to call on ex president Demetris Christofias to take the stand at the Supreme Court in relation to this year’s Mari trial convictions.
The ailing Papacostas, who was taken ill when sentencing was handed down back in August and has been in hospital since then, was jailed for five years on charges of manslaughter while former director and deputy director of the Fire Service Andreas Nicolaou and Pambos Charalambous, and former emergency rescue service (EMAK) chief Andreas Loizides were also found guilty as charged.
The other three defendants in the trial were sentenced to two years in jail each.
Papacostas has become the second convicted official after Loizides to launch an appeal requesting Christofias appear as a material witness.
Both base the reasons for their appeals on a recent interview Christofias gave to Sigma television in which he implied that the man responsible for the blast that killed the 13 people in Mari - Colonel Georgios Georgiades - had turned state witness and escaped prosecution.
A letter sent from Papacostas’ legal team notes that “the comments of Demetris Christofias in the interview are essential and correspond to events that were not heard during the criminal trial. The comments also concern material facts that must be put towards the court in the interests of justice.”
Georgiades had told the Larnaca Criminal Court during the marathon trial that the danger from 98 containers of explosives - confiscated en route to Syria from Iran - was known at all levels, from the army leadership to then-president Christofias.
During the trial, Papacostas blamed military officers for underestimating the danger and misleading him claiming that Papacostas had relied on others to evaluate the risks adding that “the minister is not an expert”. Army officers who had testified in the trial, however, painted a very different picture with regards to the cause of events leading up to the blast.
The July 2011 Evangelos Florakis Naval Base explosion in Mari was the worst peacetime military accident ever recorded in Cyprus.
The 98 containers had been left exposed to the scorching summer sun and eventually buckled under the intense heat. The resulting explosion killed 13 people including Captain Andreas Ioannides, the Commander of the Navy and the base commander, Lambros Lambrou.
Also killed were four navy personnel and six firefighters, while a further 62 people were injured. The explosion severely damaged hundreds of nearby buildings including all of the buildings in Zygi and the island's largest power station, responsible for supplying over half of Cyprus' electricity.
As a result, much of Cyprus was without power in the immediate aftermath of the incident and rolling blackouts were initiated in order to conserve supplies. The estimated costs of the blasts were set at around €2billion with cost of the power plant itself coming to €720million. Around a year later, the first signs of the island’s economic crisis began to show.
An independent inquiry into the blast claimed Christofias had “institutional and personal responsibility” for the tragedy.