ATHENS – A former fire chief heard on a recording ordering a cover-up of the department’s shambolic response to July 23, 2018 wildfires that killed 102 people testified before an investigative magistrate as a probe built.
The former head of the country’s fire service, Vassilis Mattheopoulos, was assailed verbally outside a courthouse by families of some of the victims, with some 20 officials from local government, the Civil Protection agency, the Hellenic Police and the Fire Department facing charges.
Those include arson through negligence, and manslaughter and injuries through negligence of the disaster that occurred under the former rule of the Radical Left SYRIZA which didn’t have a response plan in place.
An investigator, Athanasios Marneris’ had sought a third time to increase the charges after the first two were rejected by the court on the grounds there was no fresh evidence despite state and independent reports.
This time though he has reportedly included the testimony of two helicopter pilots who claim that had they been dispatched to the fire, the outcome may have been different, said Kathimerini.
While some politicians in key appointed positions are being prosecuted, Marneris is also targeting some fire service officers he said weren't at their posts during the fire, especially when the seaside town of Mati was overrun, most of the victims caught there in the firestorm.
In July, 2020 a tape recording was said to show Matthaiopoulos ordered a cover-up of the wildfires and issued more threats against a fire inspector, Dimitris Liotsios, trying to report on the chaotic response.
The voice purportedly that of Matthaiopoulos is heard telling Liotsios to “bury the probe” so that the ruling government of then-Premier Alexis Tsipras nor anyone in power would be blamed for failures that raised the death toll.
Liotsios wanted to forward his findings to a prosecutor but ran into a hailstorm of threats he would find his career ended and be sent to a remote posting with Matthaiopoulos saying no help would be sent if a fire broke out.
The fire chief said he had already done that to get even with others during fires in the Mani region of the Peloponnese although it wasn't reported whether, if that happened, that people died because of it.
Matthaiopoulos was promoted to Fire Brigade Chief by the Tsipras government but it wasn't indicated that was a quid pro quo for him trying to protect the Leftists and to stay silent.
The families of some victims are suing officials and Reno Dourou, former Regional Governor of the Attica prefecture is being prosecuted but hasn't come to court since then. Liotsios is also suing Matthaiopoulos.
“His only aim was to force me… by threatening to commit illegal acts, to write and submit to the competent investigating authorities a false report,” Liotsios said of Matthaiopoulos, according to the newspaper.