By George Psyllides
Former Paphos mayor Savvas Vergas and the head of the town’s sewerage board were sentenced on Wednesday to six years in jail each in connection with corruption charges relating to the construction of the town’s sewerage system.
Vergas and former sewerage board head, Eftychios Malekides, are guilty of receiving bribes and money laundering, offences committed during the construction of the town’s sewerage system.
The offences took place between 1999 and 2014.
Vergas admitted to receiving €520,000 in bribes and Malekides pleaded guilty to receiving €498,000. Both have returned immovable property and cash in a bid for leniency.
The pair had been receiving kickbacks from construction companies in return for contracts.
The scam saddled the municipality, and subsequently the taxpayer, with extra costs due to often-unnecessary additional work on the project. The project came in some €40m over budget.
Presiding judge Dora Socratous said the defendants’ behaviour and actions had no justification or excuse apart from greed, appropriation of money, abuse of authority, and abuse of trust.
Vergas, an elected official, betrayed the people’s trust, his promises, and obligations, the judge said.
Malekides exploited the position the state entrusted him with in the worst possible manner, Socratous said. From the initial stages a project necessary for Paphos he wasted no time in gaining benefits instead of working for the common good.
The town’s progressive projects were turned into sources of profit during difficult times. Both defendants made thousands at the expense of the state, the town, each and every taxpayer. The judge said the manner was “provocative, dishonest, and illegal.”
They had acted in a methodical and blatant way, Socratous said.
They exploited the entrepreneurs’ need for profit, work, and activity, without however, stopping at that.
The contractors’ claims for payment of lawful demands was another chance for financial gain, the court said.
Companies involved in the construction of the project have admitted to paying bribes but the state opted not to prosecute them.
“We are not in position to know what material or testimony there is against these individuals, apart of course, from the facts put before us: that these individuals bribed the defendants to win tenders,” the judge said.
The court said that despite having no right to judge the attorney-general’s discretion not to prosecute the contractors it “has a right and usually takes into consideration” this fact as a mitigating factor for the defendants based on the principle of equal treatment.
Not prosecuting a third party involved in a crime was not a mitigating factor in itself, the judge said, unless a violator had been favourably treated by prosecutors.
Their act to voluntarily return property and cash equal to the amount they had appropriated was correct but did not lessen the crimes or mitigate them entirely.
But the signs of remorse would be given the necessary gravity by the court.
The court also took into account the willingness to testify as prosecution witnesses against others implicated in the scandal.
They are former DISY municipal councillor Giorgos Michaelides, former DIKO councillor Efstathios Efstathiou, former AKEL councillor Vasos Vasiliou and current AKEL municipal councillor Giorgos Shiailis.
They face a total of 42 charges.
Michaelides, Efstathiou, and Vasiliou will appear in court on April 20. On March 3, the court will decide whether Shiailis should be included on the same chargesheet as the other defendants.