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Cover-up Report Triggers Probe into 2017 Fires in Mani, On Kythira

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Wildfire on Kithira, August 6, 2017. (Photo by Eurokinissi)

ATHENS – An investigative report in the newspaper Kathimerini alleging officials with the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA tried to bury the truth about mishandling of July 23, 2018 fires that killed 102 people has set off a new judicial inquiry about fires the year before in Mani on the Peloponnese and on the island of Kythira.

The paper said a recording provided by arson investigator Dimitris Liotsis revealed that his boss, then deputy fire chief Vassilis Matthaiopoulos ordered him to cover up the truth and threatened otherwise to send him to a remote post and leave him without help if a fire broke out.

The voice on the recording, said to be  Matthaiopoulos, is also heard telling Liotsis that other investigators who had fallen out of favor with the deputy chief found themselves in that position when the fires broke out in Mani and on Kythira.

Prosecutors in Piraeus and Gytheio, who oversee Kythira and Mani, are reopening the investigations into those fires after Kathimerini revealed excerpts of taped conversations between Matthaiopoulos and Liotsios showing those areas were left without aerial support.

The decision was allegedly part of an effort by the then-Fire Chief Vassilis Kapelios, to undermine Yiannis Vassiliadis, a former deputy chief of operations. “For Kapelios to get rid of Vassiliadis he left him in Kythira and Mani without aerial means,” Matthaiopoulos can be heard telling Liotsos. “That’s how the game is played.”

An apparent pattern of punishment by Matthaiopoulos – who was promoted to Brigade Fire Chief after trying to protect SYRIZA – was shown, but resulted in Liotsis suing him for the threats, with a prosecutor looking into Matthaipoulos' role in the 2018 fires that nearly wiped out the seaside village of Mati.

On the second anniversary of the fires in eastern Attica, relatives of the victims were going to gather at a church in Neos Voutzas, which was also nearly consumed that day, and will unveil a monument to the victims.

During the ceremony, the names of the dead will be read out before those in attendance walk to the neighboring town of Mati, along roads on which scores died in an attempt to flee the fires with the seaside right behind them, obscured by heavy smoke and paths blocked by unlawfully-constructed buildings.

The memorial will end with a wreath thrown into the sea where hundreds were trapped for hours during the tragedy and several died, SYRIZA not sending the Navy and only a few Coast Guard vessels, leaving it to fishermen to do the rescuing.