NICOSIA: A former Cypriot defense minister was found guilty of manslaughter yesterday over a deadly munitions blast two years ago that killed 13 people and crippled the economy in the island’s worst peacetime disaster.
A court ruled that Costas Papacostas, who served in the former communist government, bore direct responsibility for a sequence of failures to safeguard a cargo of confiscated Iranian munitions that exploded in the early hours of July 11, 2011.
Papacostas and three senior fire service officials found guilty of negligence will be sentenced on July 24.
A former foreign minister, Marcos Kyprianou, and one other defendant were cleared of all charges. The blast at Vassilikos leveled Cyprus’s largest power station, sending an already troubled economy into a deeper downward spiral that ended in a chaotic international bailout for the Mediterranean island two years later.
The Iranian-made munitions were bound for Syria when Cyprus intercepted the ship ferrying them there in 2009. They were stored on the island for being in violation of UN sanctions prohibiting Iranian arms exports.
Compressed gunpowder and shell casings were kept for months in scorching heat at a naval base adjacent to the power station and Papacostas ignored warnings from subordinates about the growing risks, the court said.
“We have no doubt the defendant was aware of the risks... but closed his eyes to the danger,” presiding Criminal Court Judge Tefkros Economou said in his verdict.