FORMER President Demetris Christofias had argued in favour of seizing Iranian munitions in January 2009, but subsequent responsibility for safe storage of the cargo lay with military authorities, a defendant in the Mari criminal trial testified yesterday.
In Larnaca court, Marcos Kyprianou – who was foreign minister at the time of the July 11, 2011 blast – denied any culpability over the incident that left 13 people dead.
Kyprianou produced the minutes of a February 2009 meeting of the Cabinet, where Christofias is quoted as saying that confiscating the munitions was in the country’s best interest.
His job was to enforce his president’s policy, the former chief diplomat told the court
Kyprianou denied allegations by prosecution witnesses that he had recommended taking recourse to the UN Security Council’s Sanctions Committee in order to “buy time” for Cyprus.
Rather, he said, that idea was the brainchild of Leonidas Pantelides, a chief Christofias aide. Kyprianou said moreover that he had disagreed with the proposal.
The former foreign minister said also that in his opinion the attorney-general had been forced to prosecute him under public pressure.
Kyprianou moreover denied any liability for the way in which the munitions were stored, saying that responsibility lay with the military and the National Guard general staff.
Around 100 containers were stockpiled at the Mari naval base, and left exposed to the elements for two-and-a-half years.
Kyprianou blamed military officers for not keeping government officials adequately briefed on the state of the munitions. In particular, he pointed the finger at Colonel Giorgos Georgiades, commander of the ordnance corps at the time in question.
Kyprianou said of Georgiades that whereas he “posed as an expert of the National Guard general staff, he did not spell out the urgency of a blast risk.”
“I could never imagine that the chief of the National Guard as well as its leadership would issue orders for stacking the containers in a way that contravenes international regulations,” he said.
Kyprianou was the first of the accused to take the stand after the Larnaca criminal court found there was a prima facie case against six defendants on trial in connection with the deadly blast.
The other defendants are former defence minister Costas Papacostas, former National Guard deputy chief Savvas Argyrou, former fire service chief Andreas Nicolaou, deputy fire chief Charalambos Charalambous and former disaster response squad (EMAK) commander Andreas Loizides. They face charges of manslaughter and causing death by negligence.
Kyprianou had quit a week after the blast. At the time, he apologised for any mistakes that may have led to the accident, but said he was resigning “not because there is a feeling of guilt but for reasons of political sensitivity.”