Four members of a volunteer firefighting group stand accused of arson and blackmail following an investigation by a prosecutor in Thessaloniki, northern Greece.
The suspects also face charges of racketeering due to suspicions that they deliberately set fires in order to coerce local authorities into giving them grants and donations to help operate dozens of small fire-fighting units the organization is said to have set up in various parts of the country.
According to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency, the Thessaloniki-based organization had contracts with dozens of municipal authorities around the country (including in the Peloponnese and central Greece) in order to augment the national fire service, which is often stretched beyond capacity during the summer season.
Local officials who refused to pay “membership fees” or make donations to the group, were subsequently blackmailed, the ANA-MPA report said.
It added that the suspects are believed to have started at least four forest fires deliberately in order to pressure officials into cooperating with the organization, whose name has not been made public.
The organization's 66-year-old director and a retired fireman are among the four suspects.