No Jail for Greek Fire Chief Convicted of Threatening Mati Investigator

After six officials convicted for various charges in the July 23, 2018 wildfires that killed 104 people and nearly wiped out the seaside village of Mati, Greece’s former fire chief also escaped being sent to prison.

Vasilis Matthaiopoulos was sentenced to a suspended sentence of 2 ½ years by the Thessaloniki Mixed Jury Court for attempted unlawful coercion and breach of duty over threatening a forensic expert, Dimitris Liotsios.

The investigator said Matthaiopoulos pressured him to cover up negligence by fire officials that led to the death toll being so high, and to bury any sense that they were culpable for failing to properly respond.

Relatives of victims applauded the verdict but Matthaiopoulos wasn’t there to hear it, defendants in Greece not required to attend court sessions or even be present for verdicts, including serious cases where people died.

The defendant issued a statement apologizing to Liotsios and the court but denied he was guilty or responsible for any alleged wrongdoings during a chaotic response to the fire, the then ruling Radical Left SYRIZA not having a disaster plan in place.

Liotsios testified about threats from Matthaiopoulos, including pressure to falsify his report and cover up the responsibilities of fire service officials but the investigator wouldn’t relent although his vehicle was sabotaged and stolen.

Despite the verdict, the case will be retried in an an Appeals Court but time is running out to hold those already convicted because the trials were delayed for years and the statute of limitations will expire in 2026, appeals taking months or more.

The court of first instance sentenced five officials earlier to 5 years imprisonment and the elderly man who set a brush fire that spread into a conflagration to 3 years but they were allowed to avoid jail by paying fines of 10 euros ($10.86) a day.


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