Farmer gets 8 years for sparking Cyprus’ worst fire

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A 69-year-old farmer found guilty of causing the largest and deadliest wildfire in recent Cyprus history was jailed by the Limassol Criminal Court on Monday for eight years.

The huge blaze on July 3, 2021, claimed the lives of four Egyptian farm labourers, caused eight villages to be evacuated and caused damages of over €15.3 mln.

The criminal court found the accused guilty of burning scrub and starting the fire “maliciously, recklessly and deliberately”.

In passing sentence, the three-judge bench said the defendant’s behaviour and lack of remorse was an aggravating factor.

It said after starting the fire, he showed no interest but went to have a coffee instead.

According to the facts of the case, the 69-year-old man, after starting the fire, was seen leaving his fields on his way to a coffee shop where he reported a fire was burning.

But while others rushed to douse the flames, the accused drank a second cup of coffee in a nearby village.

His clean criminal record, family circumstances and age were considered mitigating factors “without undermining the seriousness of the offences and the need to prevent and protect the environment”.

The court also noted that the defendant was obsessed with cleanliness and wanted his field spotless.

It said a deterrent sentence was necessary due to the “alarming increase” in wildfires started deliberately.

The accused did not take the stand during the trial, and no witnesses for the defence were called.

The court said the prosecution presented convincing evidence against the suspect for triggering a huge firefighting operation with the help of Israel and the European Union.

The farmer, who was 67 at the time, was seen leaving his field moments before the blaze started and rapidly spread because of strong winds and temperatures soaring above 40 degrees Celsius.

Then Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades, who visited the area, said the villages in the region saw “unprecedented destruction”.

The devastating fire – that started in the Limassol village of Arakapas – burnt over 55 sqm of forest land, homes, and properties.

It claimed the lives of four farm workers from Egypt aged 24 to 35, while more than 80 homes and tens of farms and small businesses were destroyed in the rural areas of Limassol and Larnaca.

Reportedly, the government has paid over €6 mln in compensation to those affected by the forest fire.