KYTHIRA, Greece - Efstratios Harhalakis, Mayor of the island of Kythira off the Southeast Peloponnese brought legal action against fire officials over a 2017 devastating blaze after an audio appeared to show aid was held back as revenge against other fire officials.
That came after judicial probes began into the wildfires that struck Mani in the Peloponnese and Kythira that year, with the audio obtained by Kathimerini revealing that former fire service chief Vassilis Matthaiopoulos held back water-dropping aircraft to get at a senior fire official.
Kathimerini revealed excerpts of taped conversations between Matthaiopoulos and fire service investigator Dimitris Liotsios, in which the former chief can be heard saying that the two areas were deliberately left without aerial support.
Speaking to the state-ru Athens-Macedonian News Agency, Harhalakis stressed that “the indictment emphasizes that there should be a criminal investigation into all the parties involved in these conversations and into what was said.”
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 set off the inquiry about Mani and Kythira.
The paper said a recording provided by arson investigator Liotsis revealed that his boss, then deputy fire chief 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.