Cyprus has 28 supermarkets operating illegally and local authorities, primarily in Limassol, Paphos and Paralimni, are neglecting a pile of letters informing them of the problem, the Supermarkets Association said on Tuesday.
Speaking during a press conference in light of a recent report from the Ombudswoman’s office on the matter, association chairman Charalambos Papantoniou said over €150 million is lost per year from turnover as a result of illegal supermarkets.
Additionally, the state loses out on millions from businesses that aren’t paying the money they need to for a proper licence, he added.
Papantoniou claimed huge supermarkets are being set up without the necessary permits from local authorities, facilities that formerly operated as factories or stores were now illegally being used as supermarkets and some were even operating in prohibitive zones such as riverbeds in industrial zones and in industrial areas.
There is no control over these facilities from the fire service, health authorities, veterinary services and the commerce ministry, he added with the situation being “out of control” posing “terrible dangers” to consumers.
“Wherever someone decides they set up a supermarket,” he said.
Over time, the problem gets worse as nothing is done by local authorities despite numerous complaints filed to them from the association.
The matter was also brought to the Ombudswoman’s office who in turn sent her own letters to municipalities and recently issued a report outlining all the complaints that needed to be investigated.
Specifically, the association filed 45 complaints with the Ombudswoman, of which 28 were found to be breaking the law in some way. In 10 instances, there was no response from the relevant local authority.
“Seeing a weakness and lack of effort from authorities in putting a stop to this illegality going on for so many years we have no other choice than taking drastic measures, beginning court proceedings against all those who have the responsibility for these illegalities,” Papantoniou said.
The association’s lawyer Achileas Demetriades said out of the 28 supermarkets, 18 had illegally changed the use of the premises, 10 had added illegal extensions and transformations and in two instances extended into state land and a riverbed.
The lawyer added he would ask Ombudswoman Eliza Savvidou to implement the law and take court measures against Limassol, Paphos and Paralimni municipalities who “didn’t bother to reply” to letters.
“It is inconceivable they are refusing to reply to the Ombudswoman. There are specific legal provisions in the law that penalise this behaviour, a year in prison or up to a €5,000 fine.”
Other measures will include asking the electricity authority to cut off power supply to those supermarkets and if nothing comes of it take the matter to the auditor general to investigate squandering public funds.
“At the end of the day we have to proceed with court proceedings against people who neglect to implement the law,” Demetriades said.