WHEN THE Dromolaxia case was being investigated the Akel leader Andros Kyprianou claimed it was all a set-up designed to damage his party. He persisted with these claims long after the court had found Akel’s chief financial officer Venizelos Zannetos guilty of a variety of offences relating to the scandal and gave him a prison sentence. Kyprianou claimed that Zannetos had been framed and, quite ludicrously, referred to him as a ‘political prisoner’.
The statement given to the court last Wednesday by contractor Miltiades Neophytou, in his lawsuit against former president Demetris Christofias for debts in the region of €21 million showed that the communists of Akel are not the innocents they claim to be on money matters. On the contrary, the contractor’s account of his dealings with Christofias showed how the former president was happy to build up personal and public debt in the belief that the money would be found – in some dubious way – to repay the debts of millions.
According to Neophytou he had been paying for jobs he had done on Christofias’ holiday home in Kellaki and town house in Nicosia, to which an extra flat was added, out of his own pocket, on the understanding his ‘close friend’ would repay him. The total cost for this building work was in excess of a million euros, of which a little over a quarter has been paid back. It is a lot of money for an individual to owe, but what was worse was that during the Christofias presidency Neophytou’s company was also bidding for government projects.
Neophytou was also installed as chairman of Omonia – the football club with which Akel has nothing to do, according to Kyprianou – by Christofias who was desperate for it to succeed as this would have boosted his re-election prospects. Christofias convinced his ‘friend’ to agree to a similar arrangement – Neophytou would pay out of his own or his company’s pocket to fund Omonia’s bid for success and Akel would pay him back. In total he spent in the region of €21.6 million of which €8.58m was paid back by 2012, through an Akel-owned company known as New Winners Investment, when Chrsitofias was still president.
As president, Christofias allegedly also arranged the raising of Neophytou’s company’s overdraft limit at the Bank of Cyprus by €2 million which went to Omonia so it could satisfy UEFA’s financial criteria in 2011. The amount was subsequently covered by a €2m loan arranged by the president from RCB which Neophytou has not repaid and has been sued for by the bank.
But the most scandalous aspect of this story was how in 2010 Akel’s interior minister Neoclis Sylikiotis changed the zoning designation of an area outside Nicosia in which Akel owned a large piece of land through a company known as Lockwood Properties. The plan, according to Neophytou, was to substantially increase the value of the land, through the zoning designation upgrade, so it could be sold and he could be repaid. The zoning change was eventually approved by the Anastasiades government, while Sylikiotis said on Friday that correct and transparent procedures had been followed by his ministry.
Zoning designation changes have made many landowners – usually with connections with the government of the day – very rich overnight. Was it therefore a coincidence there were zoning changes to an area where Akel owned a big piece of land during the Christofias presidency, especially as the party was deep in debt? As for Christofias, assuming he did not want to stitch up his ‘friend’ leaving him with debts of tens of millions, he must have calculated that, as president, he would find some way to pay him back. Omonia would certainly never have the funds to repay him, so where would the money come from? And was it a coincidence the party stopped repaying the Omonia debts a few months before Christofias left office?
The funds of the front companies used by the party to its dirty work must have dried up. How deeply ironic that our virtuous, squeaky clean communists use front companies, run by auditing or law firms to cover up the trail of the money, just like dishonest capitalists do in order to cheat the taxman or launder illegal funds. It was to such a front company that the money, given to the party by Andreas Vgenopoulos’ Focus Maritime, went and allowed Akel to publicly insist it had received no money from the Laiki strongman.
Akel’s deputies regularly claim that the political parties are the “cells of democracy”. In Cyprus though they are the “cells of corruption” which is why it is high time the authorities undertook investigations into their funding. The auditor-general has said he would investigate the zoning designation change and the attorney-general said he would study the minutes of the Neophytou-Christofias trial to establish whether any offences had been committed. Perhaps the Inland Revenue department should also carry out an investigation of where the funds of the many Akel front companies come from.