Former deputy attorney-general Rikkos Erotokritou, lawyers Andreas Kyprizoglou and Panayiotis Neocleous, and the Andreas Neocleous & Co LLC law firm were handed a guilty verdict by the Nicosia criminal court on Wednesday.
They had been facing charges of bribery, conspiracy to defraud, and conspiracy to subvert the course of justice.
In a marathon nine-hour session, the criminal court’s three judges took turns reading out their full ruling in the trial, which found Erotokritou guilty of bribery, abuse of power, corruption, and conspiracy.
Kyprizoglou, Erotokritou’s old law-firm partner, was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud.
Panayiotis Neocleous and the Neocleous law firm were found guilty of bribery, conspiracy, and corruption.
The defendants were released but will return to court on February 17, when their lawyers will argue for leniency during sentencing.
The four were said to have colluded to arrange for Erotokritou to launch the criminal prosecution of five Russian individuals and one company, at the behest and to the benefit of the Neocleous law firm, which had long been battling them in Cypriot and Russian courts over ownership and control of Providencia, a trust-fund worth hundreds of millions.
In exchange, the prosecution said, Erotokritou was rewarded for his troubles with the Neocleous law firm failing to appear in court on the day a lawsuit the former AG filed against legacy Laiki bank – then represented by the Neocleous law firm – demanding that over €500,000 of his loans are offset against his ‘haircut’ deposits.
The court found all of the prosecution witnesses credible, but assessed those of the defence as unconvincing, citing instances where they contradicted themselves, or their claims failed the test of reason.
The court said Erotokritou’s testimony “failed to convince” the three judges on crucial points of the case.
They found him to have answered key questions “evasively”, in a bid to misdirect the court.
Kyprizoglou, the court said, appeared to have “incomprehensibly” attempted to convince the judges that he had no contact at all with Erotokritou since he was appointed deputy AG, even though some contact, either regarding cases relating to his old law firm or even socially, would have been perfectly justified.
With regard to Neocleous’ claim that his staff had misread summons to the lawsuit in question with a similar one, leading to the law firm’s absence from the hearing, the court said it was “not convinced”.
For one thing, it said, Neocleous for two years maintained that he was the one that had confused the summons and instructed his secretary to file the documents in the wrong case file, only to change his testimony in court, claiming that an email discovered during the trial proved that the mistake had been his secretary’s alone, and that he had not even seen the summons after all.
The court especially found Erotokritou’s denial that, while shareholder at the Neocleous law firm and former Disy deputy Maria Kyriacou was registered as having entered the Legal Service for a meeting with him on October 3, 2013, he had not met with her to discuss Providencia, particularly implausible.
He claimed he would have remembered seeing her, and ventured that he might have been in the archives, not his office, when she came, as he typically spent much of his time working there.
But, the court said, the Legal Service’s archives being just one floor down from Erotokritou’s office, it would make more sense for him to have left his work to see any visitors, instead of simply ignoring them.
Plus, the court said, the former AG’s claim that a police report “recommended” that criminal prosecutions be launched in connection with the Providencia affair was simply false, the court said.