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Mati fire: Investigator says he was pressured to cover up, ex Minister files against newspaper

It rains lawsuits following revelations about possible mishandling of the wildfire in Mati in July 2018/17 that cost the lives of over 100 people. Former Citizen Protection Minister filed a law suit against daily Kathimerini for the revelations, while the main Fire Service investigator filed a lawsuit saying that he was threatened and put under pressure by the ex Fire Service chief to cover up.

The head of the Athens prosecutor’s office, Evangelos Ioannidis, has ordered a preliminary inquiry into allegations that officials under the SYRIZA government tried to cover up the gross mishandling of the Mati wildfire.

On Sunday, newspaper Kathimerini featured a detailed report based also audio recordings between Fire Service officials.

The daily’s investigation into the immediate response by the authorities to the fires and their aftermath also turned up testimony indicating 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, a Fire Service officer, has meanwhile filed a lawsuit with the prosecutor’s office detailing how he was threatened and blackmailed to bury his findings regarding the Mati fire.

Liotsios has filed formal complaints detailing how former chief Fire Service chief Vassilis Matthaiopoulos tried to threaten and blackmail him into burying his findings. He has also submitted an audio recording of the most damning of these conversations. “If you write about your superiors having any blame, we will close ranks and tear you apart,” the fire chief told him.

Using a stream of invectives, Matthaiopoulos is also heard chiding Liotsios for demanding documents signed by then Attica regional governor Rena Dourou, the forestry and fire service, accusing him of lacking the expertise to assess their content.

“Keep it simple, or they’ll take you for an idiot… Five little things: Wind, combustible matter, a mixture of pine trees and houses, anarchic, unplanned construction. And the result was that the fire got out of control in an hour… Five lines, five words, and hand it in. And the prosecutors? Some people will get the pie and you’ll get f…d. That’s how the game is played in Greece,” he told the investigator.

According to kathimerini report, Matthaiopoulos claimed that he was handling upon orders by the then political leadership and at one point he clarifies that “the order came by the Minister”[of Citizens Protection].

Ex Minister for Citizen Protection files against Kathimerini

Then Minister for Citizen Protection, Olga Gerovassili (SYRIZA) reacted with a lawsuit against Kathimerini on Monday afternoon, after the newspaper refused to revoke or withdraw the post. Gerovassili can file a lawsuit against Matthaiopolous, kathimerini responded to the ex minister’s out of court protest.

In her lawsuit, the former minister speaks of “blatantly defamatory and slanderous reports” which, as she emphasizes, “have nothing to do with reality and insult and infringe on her honor and political integrity,” the daily notes in a latest report.

Court documents further show Liotsios running into successive obstacles from the very start of his investigation, including from fire service officials challenging the purview of his authority and rank.

Fires in Kythera and Mani

The plot thickened, when Matthaiopoulos claimed that the same had happened in the fires in Kythera and Mani in 2017 with the then chief of the Fire Service Vassileios Kapelios and the deputy chief  Vassiliadis.

“They will say in the first fire, ‘Do not raise anything. This is how games are made. This is how the games with Kapelios – Vassiliadis took place last year. In order to get rid of Vassiliadis, Kapelios left Kythira and Mani without aerial means [to extinguish the fire], Matthaiopoulos said claiming that there are several files at the prosecutor’s offices in Gythio and Piraeus.

Speaking to media on Monday, the major of Kithera, Eftsratios Harhalakis, said he has suspicion that something was not right as the aircraft were sent far away in order to reload.

Kythera mayor added that he was never called to testify and claimed that the island south of Peloponnese was left to burn for the sake of internal “cleaning” within the Fire Service.

More information about the deadly fire in Mati here.

PS It is Justice that will investigate the allegations. However, all that I know from following the Mati wildfire minute by minute during the wildfire and in the aftermath is that authorities and services to protect civilians tragically failed on that horrible 24 hours in July 2018, where over 80 people were burned to death and dozens others died later in hospitals. And that all this happened just 30 km East from the Greek capital Athens.

That the Mati tragedy has turned into a non-stop political game between New Democracy and SYRIZA is ultra pathetic and an insult to the victims.

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