Verdicts in Stalled Trial of Greek Officials Over Mati Fire Due April 29

ATHENS – It took so long that the statute of limitations was close to running out but verdicts in the trial of 21 officials charged over their response to the July 23, 2018 wildfires that killed 104 people and devastated the village of Mati are finally coming.

Those are due April 29 after long being delayed, an investigation looking into how those charged handled their duties, the overall response from the then-ruling Radical Left SYRIZA shambolic, that government not having a disaster plan in place.

Unlike now, when people with cell phones get automatic text alerts about dangers including fires, storms and weather conditions and other hazards, the victims and others that day had no warning and were left to their own devices.

Many were directed into the path of the fire in Mati, along the seaside about 15 miles northeast of Athens, victims trapped in their cars or blocked from reaching the water by haphazard unlawful construction, including 26 huddled on a cliff over the water.

The fire at Mati was the second-deadliest wildfire of the century after the 2009 bushfires in Australia which killed 173 people and the sixth-deadliest worldwide in the last 100 years but then Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras accepted only “political responsibility.”

He was not charged but other officials in his government were accused of criminal responsibility in allegedly failing their duties, including fire officials who didn’t dispatch water-dropping aircraft and an overall response called chaotic.

After stalling for years, judicial officials then accelerated the trial to avoid charges being dropped because of how long it took, common in Greece where cases not barred by statutes of limitations can take a decade or more to reach the courts

Former state officials and those from the Fire Brigade and Civil Protection, as well as local government officials were charged, along with an elderly man who started the conflagration in burning brush on a windy day.

Initially the court will decide which of the total of 21 defendants will be found guilty before ruling on the recognition or not of mitigating circumstances that will determine the extent of the sentences, if any.

Prosecutor Panagiotis Maniatis has recommended guilty verdicts for nine defendants and the acquittal of 12, including the then Attica Regional Governor, Rena Dourou, and the then Mayor of Marathonas, Ilias Psinakis.

But the statute of limitations could still come into play if there are any guilty verdicts because it will cover a period until those become irrevocable, including appeals to the Supreme Court which could take months or years, courts having limited sessions.


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