ATHENS – The European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) is waiting on written testimonies from 26 people being investigated over failures to implement safety measures in Greece that led to a head-on train crash killing 57.
That happened in February – it was predicted by a whistleblower who had warned that safety measures funded 85 percent by the European Union were left undone for nine years, that taken seriously only after the fact.
The whistleblower hasn’t been named but before the accident on the Athens-Thessaloniki line in which a passenger train coming out of a tunnel slammed head-on into a freight train, said it was waiting to happen.
That led EPPO to investigate on its own as Greek authorities were said to be doing the same but are keeping the probe secret and out of the public eye, although the EU’s examination has been more revealing so far.
The investigation is into the failure not to implement contract 717 with Greek railway manager ERGOSE for signaling and telemanagement systems on the country’s rail network that was manual.
The suspects – apart from former Transport Ministers Christos Spirtzis from SYRIZA – accused of dereliction of duty – and New Democracy’s Kostas Karamanlis – charged with breach of faith, haven’t been named.
They are facing charges of complicity to commit fraud, false certification, breach of trust and complicity to commit breach of trust and no accounting of where 41 million euros ($43.8 million) in the 2014 contract went.
EPPO completed its investigation this summer with a 106-page indictment with the findings but Greece’s probe is dragging on, as are others including the Coast Guard’s role in a refugee shipwreck that drowned hundreds.
The accused include high-ranking officials at ERGOSE, employees of the TOMI-Alstom consortium, and Ministry of Transport officials who haven’t explained why the contract wasn’t fully implemented.
Among the charges are failing to submit approved project studies as required for the project’s execution, despite receiving payment from the Transport Ministry with no accounting.
Eight extensions were given beyond the two-year limit and original deadline of 2016 to finish the work which the whistleblower said would have been in place and prevented the crash.
No penalties were imposed in any case although they were required to be because the ERGOSE board approved the consortium’s requests and even revised the project’s expenses upward.
The Athens Court of Appeals had been looking into the contract delays too but shelved its probe in 2021 before an anonymous tip to EPPO got that agency involved while Greece let the problem sit.
In a 10-page report submitted to EPPO said that, “The worst thing is that in 2022, with the way ERGOSE is managing the projects, trains are running without any safety system. We have already lost three people in the Adendro accident. Recently with the snowfall we had a collision in Davleia with the injury of 11 of our fellow citizens,” the report said.
“If the 717 contract had completed its physical scope in 2016, as contractually due, and the signaling and the ETCS (train protection system) had been operational, none of the above would have happened,” it added.
The charges have been filed against two former Presidents and Managing Directors, one former Managing Director, and an Executive Board Member of OSE, Greece having four agencies overseeing the rails.
Charges include manslaughter, gross bodily harm, negligent bodily harm, and disrupting travel safety but it wasn’t indicated whether the cases will drag on for years which is common in Greece.