The Nicosia criminal court on Monday stayed the trial against Bank of Cyprus and six of its former top executives who were facing charges of market manipulation.
The court said it was dismissing the charges, deferring to a December 6 decision by the supreme court that found the charge sheet filed by the state prosecution and relating to market manipulation was void.
The attorney-general’s office subsequently appealed that supreme court decision.
But on Monday the criminal court upheld the supreme court’s ruling – effectively dismissing the charges against the defendants.
Announcing the court’s decision, presiding judge Elena Ephraim said they acknowledged the supreme court’s earlier finding that the charge sheet “does not reveal an offence known to law” and that therefore the charges are “void ab initio (to begin with).”
Technically, the criminal court did not acquit the defendants, as according to its ruling the charges never existed in the first place.
The defendants were Bank of Cyprus as a legal entity, plus former CEO Andreas Eliades, his deputy Yiannis Kypri, vice-chairman Andreas Artemis, and board members Yiorgos Georgiades, Costas Severis and Costas Hadjipapas.
Five of the defendants were facing four charges relating to market manipulation in connection with the bank’s investments in toxic Greek government bonds. The sixth, Eliades, was facing two additional ones relating to perjury before the committee of inquiry into the economy.
The case concerned the lender’s acquisition of Greek government bonds and its failure to inform shareholders of the dangers of the investment.
On Monday, the state prosecutor asked the court to delay ruling on the case pending the outcome of the appeal against the supreme court’s December 6 decision.
Rather than terminate the trial, the criminal court ordered a stay of proceedings. In theory it can subsequently lift the stay and resume proceedings based on events taking place after the stay is ordered.
As it stands, the only possible reversal – though unlikely – is should the supreme court reverse its own decision of December 6, thereby making the market manipulation charges valid again.
The only charges for which the trial could have continued concerned the two counts of perjury against former bank chief Eliades.
But the state prosecution informed the court that the attorney-general has decided to discontinue those charges.
Attorney-general Costas Clerides later described the ruling as a dismissal of charges rather than an acquittal.
During the proceedings, Chris Triantafyllides, attorney for some of the defendants, said his clients were not obliged to appear in court as technically the charges against them had already been dismissed by the supreme court.
The only reason his clients did appear was out of courtesy, the lawyer added.
This second criminal case against Bank of Cyprus and executives had been filed on September 25, 2015.
The ruling comes days after the denouement in the first criminal case.
Last week the Nicosia criminal court found the bank and Eliades guilty of the charge of market manipulation through misleading statements to investors about the lender’s capital shortfall in June 2012.
Market manipulation carries a sentence of up to 10 years imprisonment, a fine of €100,000, or both.
The other defendants in the first case – Kypri, former board chairman Theodoros Aristodemou, Artemi and head of Greek operations Yiannis Pehlivanides – were cleared of all charges.
As the two trials involved different evidence and circumstances, the supreme court’s decision of December 6 dismissing the charge of market manipulation in the second case did not apply to the first case.