Cyprus police charge ex-ministers in fatal blast

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Cyprus police have filed criminal charges against two former Cabinet ministers over last year's explosion of seized Iranian munitions that killed 13 people and touched off a political crisis, a senior police official said Tuesday.

The official said the charges against ex-Foreign Affairs Minister Markos Kyprianou and ex-Defense Minister Costas Papacostas include negligence causing death. Police did not publicly disclose the charges, and the official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. Defendants convicted of that charge can be jailed for up to four years.

State-run CyBC television said the two men also face the more serious charge of manslaughter which carries a maximum life sentence.

Both Kyprianou and Papacostas told CyBC that they denied to police investigators all the charges.

Kyprianou said he believes the decision to prosecute him is politically motivated. “I consider it as an attempt to distract public opinion and to find a scapegoat,” he said.

Papacostas said he looks forward to setting the record straight in court.

The police official said unidentified charges also have been filed against three senior army officers and three fire department officials regarding the deaths.

Kyprianou and Papacostas resigned after the July 11, 2011, blast, which wrecked the island's main power station and triggered weeks of street protests calling for President Dimitris Christofias' resignation.

A public inquiry into the explosion said he was mainly to blame for the events that led to the explosion. Christofias rejected the inquiry's nonbinding findings.

The munitions packed in some 98 containers were confiscated in February 2009 from a Cypriot-flagged ship suspected of transporting it from Iran to Palestinian militants in Gaza through Syria in breach of a United Nations ban on Iranian arms exports.

The containers had been left piled in an open field inside a naval base on the island's southern coast, despite warnings from military officials that the munitions could spontaneously ignite as a result of their exposure to the elements.

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