As the judicial probe of the Mati wildfire disaster continues, the only thing that protects competent ministers from being held responsible for the tragedy is the infamous law o ministerial responsibility.
The law says that only parliament and not the judiciary can probe the criminal responsibility of ministers, who are also granted an exceptionally short statute of limitations, which almost always leads to their evading prosecution.
The prosecutor’s probe has already made headway in a number of areas. Over 30 witnesses have been examined.
Five lawsuits have been filed by relatives of the dead and third parties. A report conducted by a technical expert is damning as regards criminal errors. Prosecutors have made a number of legal moves to ascertain what was done and perhaps more importantly what was not done by representatives of the competent state services.
The prosecutor’s probe was launched on 24 July, the day after the fire, on orders from Supreme Court Prosecutor Xeni Dimitriou, who appointed Lower Court Prosecutor Elias Zagoraios to conduct the preliminary investigation, along with his colleague Varvara Gnesouli.
The probe is proceeding extremely swiftly, with the aim of concluding it within the next few weeks.
When the probe is completed will depend on when the independent expert that was appointed by the judiciary delivers his report, as well as when the report of the Fire Service will be completed.
There is an effort to refocus the investigation, following the testimony of members of the Attica Prefecture, the Fire Service, and Greek Police, as well as of victims and relatives of those who died.
The initial prosecutor’s order was to probe the causes of the fire. However, the testimony of witnesses and lawsuits filed by the victims has widened the probe to examine all the actions and omissions by state services and officials that occurred, either before the fire or after it broke out.
Prosecutors’ on site inspection
A crucial part of the case file is the six-hour on site inspection by Supreme Court Prosecutor Xeni Dimitriou and the head of the Athens Prosecutor’s office, Elias Zagoraios, in order to inspect first-hand the scene of the disaster.
In their contacts with individuals who handled various aspects of the event, they were informed of the shocking details of the catastrophe, which will play a role in attributing specific responsibilities.
The lawsuits filed by private citizens will also offer valuable accounts of what occurred, which will help complete the picture of the errors in managing the fire.
A few days ago, a report completed by technical advisor Andrianos Gourbatsis, after conducting a probe on behalf of two families related to victims, was included in a lawsuit submitted by attorney Antonis Foussas.
The report cites a series of criminal errors, actions and omissions by the General Secretariat of Civil Protection, the Fire Service, Greek Police, municipalities and the prefecture, which along with the dysfunctions of the civil protection mechanism, seriously affected firefighting efforts during the emergency.
The key issue, according to the report, is the lack of coordination and communication in the components of the civil protection mechanism, which failed to prepare forces to be battle-worthy before the start of the peak fire-fighting period.