Greek Cyprus to bust ex-army head
NICOSIA – Agence France-PresseA European arrest warrant was issued yesterday against former Greek Cyprus army chief Petros Tsalikides, charged in connection with a deadly munitions blast, after he failed to appear in court, officials said.
Tsalikides’ seven co-defendants were in court yesterday but did not have the charges read out to them, nor were they asked to enter a plea.
The hearing at Larnaca district court on the island’s south coast was adjourned until May 18 in order to give time for the former army commander -- a Greek national living in Greece -- to appear. Tsalikidis failed to turn up at the hearing yesterday, prompting the judge to issue the arrest warrant upon a prosecutor’s request, the state-controlled Cyprus News Agency reported. Former foreign minister Marcos Kyprianou and ex-defense minister Costas Papacostas are among the eight public officials facing prosecution over the blast of confiscated Iranian weapons in July 2011 that killed 13 people and injured 62. They were released on a 150,000 euro bail guarantee to appear in court next month.
They face a total of 208 charges including manslaughter, causing death through negligence, dereliction of duty and acts which caused bodily harm in connection with the deadly munitions blast that also crippled Greek Cyprus’ main power plant. Manslaughter, the most serious offence, carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. The other accused are army deputy commander Savvas Argyrou and army Colonel George Georgiades, along with fire chief Andreas Nicolaou, deputy fire chief Pambos Charalambous and commander of the fire service’s disaster reaction unit, Andreas Loizides. There were some angry scenes outside the courthouse amid a heavy police. A public inquiry found President Dimitris Christofias responsible for the explosion, but there was never any possibility of legal proceedings against him as the constitution gives him immunity from prosecution.
Kyprianou, Papacostas and the army commander all resigned over the blast. The deputy commander was sacked. There was a public outcry after munitions stored at a naval base for three years exploded despite repeated warnings that they were unsafe, and street protests called for Christofias to quit. The munitions were confiscated by Greek Cyprus in 2009 from a vessel sailing from Iran to Syria, for violating United Nations sanctions.