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Prosecutor Rules 27 Greek Officials Will Stand Trial for Deadly Mati Fire

Mati Fire 2018
There has yet to be a public trial for those responsible for the deadly Mati fire in 2018 outside Athens. Credit: Public Domain

Athens prosecutor Georgios Polikratis said on Tuesday that he has referred 27 Greek officials to trial for the 2018 Mati deadly fire. The accused include some senior officials from the previous SYRIZA government — and one celebrity former mayor.

Out of 28 officials investigated for the Mati fire which killed 102 people, all but one are facing trial. In his 680-page draft, the prosecutor proposes that the accused stand trial at the Three-Member Misdemeanor Court of Athens.

The officials are expected to stand trial for two offenses: Negligent manslaughter due to inaction of law enforcement officials, and personal injury due to negligence committed by failure to act.

Among those accused in the Mati fire, in which 102 lost their lives, are former Attica Governor Rena Dourou, former Civil Protection Secretary General Yiannis Kapakis, and former Marathon Mayor and celebrity Ilias Psinakis.

The list also includes current Greek Fire Chief Stefanos Kolokuris, who was head of the Special Disaster Management Unit (EMAK) in 2018. Several high-ranking officials of the fire service, the Greek Police and civil protection will also stand trial for their parts in the terrifying blaze outside Athens.

Among the accused is the 70-year-old who is blamed for the catastrophic Mati fire, by burning branches outside his home on Mount Penteli. The prosecutor proposes the acquittal of only the co-pilot of the coordinating rescue helicopter.

Mati fire described in detail by the prosecutor

The prosecutor’s proposal describes in detail every aspect that led to the deadly spread of the Mati fire. The scenario that played out on that day is described in the new document as: “Combined convergent negligent behaviors that led to a tragic result.”

Both charges for the accused officials are misdemeanors. The individual who started the Mati fire will be charged with unintentional arson. The case file will be forwarded to the Athens Council of Criminal Courts in the coming days. Then the Greek Parliament must vote to strip immunity from the accused members of Parliament. Only then can they stand trial.

Citing the reasons for the tragedy, the prosecutor notes that the state was “unprepared”, and that there was “insufficient” mobilization of firefighters. He also writes that the authorities “failed to assess” the danger posed by the fire.

The prosecutor also found that not all available ground and air forces were dispatched immediately. Given that a fire had also erupted in Kinetta, in western Attica, there was no proper operational control of firefighting aircraft.

A long-awaited trial

The prosecutor’s report will be considered by the Athens Judicial Council of Criminal Courts. If the Council concurs, it will pave the way for a long-awaited trial, over four years after the deadly Mati fires.

Another related case is also pending in the prosecutor’s office, concerning the attempt to cover up the responsibilities for the Mati inferno, and the subsequent attempt to blackmail experts.

The Mati fire broke out on the afternoon of July 23, 2018. It quickly spread to the coastal towns of Mati and Kokkino-Limanaki, to the east of Athens. It destroyed houses and forced residents and tourists to flee to the shoreline.

It led to the death of 102 people in total, many of them foreign tourists enjoying their summer holidays in the area. It also led to at least 32 people who were injured or seriously disfigured by the fire.

Due to confusing directions given by the traffic police, people trying to escape the Mati fire were sent to the main road. Hundreds of cars got stuck in a traffic jam, not allowing them to escape the fire and, as a result, this led to even larger casualties than would otherwise have been the case.

There were few official responses to the prosecutor’s findings. “Ms. Dourou has been at the disposal of Justice authorities from the start,” said Rena Dourou’s lawyer, Theodoros Schinas.

He added that the former Attica governor wishes to contribute to the investigation in any way she is asked to do so. Dourou is now the main opposition leader in the Attica governing council.

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