THE decision to have prisons inmate Panayiotis Neocleous transferred to the Eoka rehabilitation centre in Palodhia for dental treatment was unlawful and constitutes a squandering of public funds, the auditor-general has found.
Odysseas Michaelides’ findings on the case of Neocleous, a high-powered attorney, were discussed at length on Thursday during a fractious closed-doors session of the House watchdog committee lasting seven hours.
Opposition politicians have dubbed Neocleous’ transfer to the deluxe rehab centre a scandal, with the auditor-general now chiming in.
The auditor-general moreover is urging the acting governor of the Central Prisons to immediately reassess the transfer decision “and to take steps in order to comply with the law and the protection of the public interest.”
In excepts from the report, leaked to the Cyprus News Agency (CNA), Michaelides hints that certain quarters sought to obstruct his investigation into the matter.
“It is also noteworthy that in this case neither the convict’s lawyers nor the health ministry had any problem with sending sensitive personal data [regarding Neocleous’ health] to the minister of justice, who is not the competent minister as far as this case was concerned, yet when our agency requested this data they ‘remembered’ that personal data is confidential.”
A redacted or abridged version of the auditor-general’s report is expected to be released on Friday.
In parliament on Thursday, justice minister Ionas Nicolaou defended his order to have Neocleous moved from prison to the Palodhia centre, where the convict is being guarded around the clock.
By contrast, the auditor-general argues that such a decision should have rested with the health minister.
Nicolaou said he respected but also disagreed with the findings of the auditor-general and with a legal opinion previously furnished by the attorney-general’s office.
Although neither were legally binding, said Nicolaou, he would take them “under serious consideration in the further handling of the matter.”
According to the minister, the Palodhia centre was not chosen by the convict but rather it was recommended by a medical board.
The minister said transferring inmates to private clinics was standard procedure when the treatment necessary could not be provided by the public sector.
Asked about the cost, he said Neocleous will pay for his treatment, and the state for the security arrangements.
However main opposition Akel was having none of it.
Party MP Stefanos Stefanou called on Nicolaou to resign over the affair.
“The minister played a leading role in this scandal of the favourable treatment of an inmate. This includes illegalities, irregularities, overstepping powers and waste of public funds.”
Citizens Alliance MP Anna Theologou said: “In the case of this convict, there was no medical history of the ailment, but suddenly, after his conviction, it was decided that he should get treatment on the taxpayer’s dime.”
Last March Neocleous was sentenced to two and a half years in prison over the corruption case that also brought down former deputy attorney-general Rikkos Erotokritou.
On May 30 he was admitted to the rehab centre in Palodhia, Limassol, to undergo dental treatment.
His admission to the centre was made possible following a medical board ruling, which approved the request for transfer by a dentist who argued that the required treatment for his dental implants was only available at his Limassol clinic.
The medical board had previously denied a similar request for back-pain treatment on grounds that it was available at the Nicosia general hospital.
In total, four medical boards had been convened.
It’s been reported that the arrangements will cost the state €200,000 in 2017, and €500,000 in 2018.