A few days before the second anniversary of the devastating fire in eastern Attica that claimed the lives of 102 people, new evidence is coming to light, suggesting that the leadership of the Greek Fire Service attempted a huge cover-up to divert responsibility.
The fire on July 23, 2018 that decimated the seaside town of Mati was the second-deadliest wildfire event in the 21st century, after the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Australia that killed 173.
According to audio evidence released by Greek daily Kathimerini, the leadership of the fire brigade at that time, citing orders from above and the instructions from the political leadership, appeared to be acting in an organized manner not to shed light on the tragic evidence regarding the disaster but instead to cover up the crime and protect the SYRIZA officials involved.
Kathimerini said it had turned up testimony indicating attempts to prevent the Greek Fire Service officer appointed by the First Instance Prosecutor’s office to look into the case, from doing his job.
Investigator Dimitris Liotsios filed formal complaints against former Fire Service Chief Vassilis Matthaiopoulos, alleging threats and blackmail to force the truth about the chaotic response to be kept hidden, the newspaper said.
Liotsios also submitted an audio recording of the most damning of these conversations. “If you write about your superiors having any blame, we will close ranks and tear you apart,” Mattaipoulos allegedly told him.
Using a string of profanities, Matthaiopoulos is also heard chiding Liotsios for demanding documents signed by then-Attica Regional Governor Rena Dourou – herself facing stalled prosecution for her handling of the disaster — from the forestry and fire service, accusing him of lacking the expertise to assess their content.
“Keep it simple, or they’ll take you for an idiot… Five little things: Wind, combustible matter, a mixture of pine trees and houses, anarchic, unplanned construction. And the result was that the fire got out of control in an hour… Five lines, five words, and hand it in. And the prosecutors? Some people will get the pie and you’ll get f…d. That’s how the game is played in Greece,” he told the investigator.
Court documents showed Liotsios ran into a stone wall of obstacles from officials trying to prevent him from revealing the government’s failures, including from fire service officials challenging his authority and rank, the newspaper said.
Excerpts of the audio recording are included in the following video: