NOBODY doubts Attorney-general Costas Clerides’ knowledge of the law and his commitment to upholding it. But it still came as a bit of a surprise on Tuesday, when he issued an announcement to back comments he had made the previous day, regarding the stolen emails of the senior attorney at his office in charge of extraditions.
Quoting Article 122, Cap154 of the criminal code, he wrote: “Whoever commits any action that it is possible to influence any police investigation being carried out, with the aim of the commencement of a legal procedure, or any investigation being carried out, based on the provisions of any law, is guilty of an offence and subject to three years in prison.”
Given there were two investigations taking place – one by police into possible theft and publication of telecommunication data and one by the public service commission into the possible committing of disciplinary offences – “any actions that could possibly influence, in any way, these two procedures could constitute a criminal offence,” his announcement warned.
The announcement was viewed as a threat by some media, as an attempt to stop reports about an issue of public interest. Another possible explanation was that Clerides was merely justifying comments he had made the previous day when he said that while there were procedures on the matter in progress, “public discussions were not allowed.” This was interpreted as arrogance by the media and the AG issued the announcement to explain his comments were based on the law.
While he was correct, in theory, the practice was very different. Never before, in recent times, have the media been stopped from reporting or commenting on an ongoing investigation. No newspaper or broadcasting station was ever charged for influencing investigations into alleged wrongdoing. They have even carried reports that could have influenced court proceedings, with impunity. In short, Article 122, Cap 154 of the criminal code was never enforced.
Newspapers have published statements given to police by suspects while investigations were in progress. There were countless reports about the former deputy AG, Rikkos Erotokritou’s behaviour when police investigations were taking place against him, without Clerides feeling the urge to say this was a violation of the criminal code. Under the circumstances, the criticism he came under was understandable.
It was very strange that actions about which attorneys-general said and did nothing for years, became an issue as soon as a member of the attorney-general’s office was at the centre of an investigation. Clerides suddenly remembered a provision of the criminal code that was a dead letter, in order to protect his attorney. Interestingly, President Anastasiades twice commented in television interviews about the case, pointing out the attorney’s “violation of security rules.” Will he be charged?