Former Cyprus defense minister given jail term for blast

NICOSIA Fri Aug 2, 2013 5:45am EDT

Former Cypriot Defence Minister Costas Papacostas (L) walks past Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou as he arrives to testify at a parliamentary inquiry regarding a massive munitions blast, in Nicosia July 18, 2011. REUTERS/Andreas Manolis

Former Cypriot Defence Minister Costas Papacostas (L) walks past Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou as he arrives to testify at a parliamentary inquiry regarding a massive munitions blast, in Nicosia July 18, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Andreas Manolis

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NICOSIA (Reuters) - A former Cypriot defense minister was given a five-year jail term on Friday over a munitions blast two years ago which killed 13 people and crippled the island's electricity grid.

Costas Papacostas, who served in the island's former communist government, was found guilty of manslaughter and causing death through negligence. The 74-year-old has been in hospital with a heart condition since he was found guilty on July 9 and was not present in court.

Three senior officers in the island's fire and emergency services were also jailed for two years for causing death through negligence.

The court ruled that the defendants had been responsible for a sequence of failures to safeguard a cargo of confiscated Iranian munitions that exploded on July 11 2011.

Papacostas resigned in the wake of the blast. A second minister on trial, former foreign minister Marcos Kyprianou, was cleared.

The munitions, which included compressed gunpowder and shell casings, were kept for months in scorching heat at the island's only naval base, next to Vassilikos, its main power station.

Vassilikos was extensively damaged in the blast, in the island's worst peacetime disaster.

During the trial the court heard testimony that senior officials had played down or been unresponsive to warnings from lower-ranking officers that the cargo was unstable.

(Writing by Michele Kambas; editing by Andrew Roche)

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