Responding to a report by Kathimerini on Sunday, the head of the Athens prosecutor’s office, Evangelos Ioannidis, has ordered an inquiry into evidence that officials under the previous leftist-led government tried to cover up the gross mishandling of the wildfire in the seaside town of Mati east of Athens that cost more than 100 lives in July 2018.
The newspaper’s report revealed attempts to prevent the Greek Fire Service officer appointed by the First Instance Prosecutor’s office to look into the case from doing his job.
Investigator Dimitris Liotsios has meanwhile filed a lawsuit with the prosecutor’s office detailing how he was allegedly threatened and blackmailed by former fire service chief Vassilis Matthaiopoulos into burying his findings.
“His only aim was to force me… by threatening to commit illegal acts, to write and submit to the competent investigating authorities a false report,” Liotsios said of Matthaiopoulos.
The revelations triggered a clash between the ruling conservatives and the leftist SYRIZA opposition. Government spokesman Stelios Petsas said the alleged cover-up had “massive moral, political and criminal ramifications,” while former citizens’ protection minister Olga Gerovassili stated that any claims of political intervention were false.
Gerovassili also sued Kathimerini over the report which, she claimed, was groundless and slanderous.
Kathimerini responded that it stood by its report, which includes a reference to a conversation between Matthaiopoulos and Liotsios in which the former invokes alleged orders from Gerovassili when urging him to cover up the mishandling of the tragedy.
The new inquiry now aims to determine whether top officials of the fire service and other state bodies should join the ranks of more than 20 state officials facing charges of gross negligence in connection with the tragedy.
The magistrate handling the investigation, Athanassios Marneris, has already summoned the first of the defendants including former Marathon mayor Ilias Psinakis, Kathimerini understands.
The magistrate also sought to bring criminal charges against lower-ranking members of the fire service, which were rejected by prosecutors as it was deemed that no malice could be attributed to firefighters putting their own lives at risk.