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Cyprus: Charges dropped for air crash defendants

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February 18, 2013 10:57 AM EST | AP

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NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus' attorney general on Monday dropped manslaughter and other charges against four defendants on trial for a 2005 plane crash that killed 121 people because a Greek court had already convicted three of them in a separate trial.

Greek investigators blamed the crash of the Helios Airways flight outside Athens on human error after an unpressurized cabin knocked out both pilots soon after the Boeing 737-300 took off from Cyprus. A Greek court earlier this month upheld a conviction against former Helios managing director Demetris Pantazis, chief pilot Ianko Stoimenov and operations director George Kikides on a misdemeanor charge of negligent manslaughter.

Attorney General Petros Clerides told The Associated Press that he dropped the charges because European Union laws stipulate that defendants tried and convicted in one EU country can't be tried for the same crime in another EU country.

Pantazis and Kikides are Cypriots. Stoimenov is a Bulgarian national.

Clerides also dropped the case against a fourth defendant, former Helios chief executive Andreas Drakos, because it would be difficult to prosecute him alone. Drakos, also a Cypriot national, didn't face charges in the Greek trial.

Cyprus-based Helios dissolved about a year after the Aug. 14, 2005, accident.

In December last year, Cyprus' Supreme Court ordered a new trial for the four defendants after ruling that a lower court wrongly acquitted them. Prosecutors in that trial had argued that the defendants failed to prevent the Helios plane from being flown by "unsuitable and inadequate" pilots.

George Papaioannou, the defense lawyer for Pantazis and Drakos, said that all four defendants would appeal their Greek court conviction at that country's Supreme Court and would be willing to take their case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights.

He said the defendants want to show that the Greek investigators' conclusions into what caused the crash were flawed. Papaioannou didn't elaborate.