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Cyprus Court Finds Former Minister Guilty Over 2011 Blast Deaths

A Cypriot court found former Defense Minister Costas Papacostas guilty of manslaughter over a blast at a naval base in 2011 that killed 13, injured 62 and knocked out half of Cyprus’s electricity supply.

Papacostas was directly responsible for a series of failures to properly safeguard a cargo of munitions stored at the base that had been seized from a ship in 2009 by the Cypriot authorities, a court ruled today, according to the decision handed out to reporters and read out on state-run RIK TV.

Gunpowder and shell casings were kept at the naval base for months in high temperatures and Papacostas ignored warnings from his staff about the increasing risks, according to the court decision.

Papacostas will be sentenced on July 24 along with two senior fire-fighting officials and the former commander of the country’s disaster response squad, who were found guilty of causing death by negligence, according to the court decision.

Markos Kyprianou, who was foreign minister at the time of the blast on July 11, 2011, along with Savvas Argyrou, the former deputy commander of Cyprus’s National Guard, were cleared of all charges related to the explosion at the Evangelos Florakis naval base. The blast seriously damaged the adjacent Vassilikos power plant, the country’s largest, and killed the head of the country’s navy.

Relatives of those killed condemned the court for failing to sentence all those charged and also blamed Demetris Christofias, who was Cypriot president at the time, in comments televised live on RIK.

The U.S., Britain and France said in 2009 that the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines had chartered the Russian-owned, Cypriot-flagged Monchegorsk vessel to send weapons-related material, including what they described as “bullet shells” and anti-tank munitions, to Syria. Iran said at the time that the seizure of the arms shipment was illegal.

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