Former President George Vassiliou said on Wednesday that he had no issue paying back the €48,000 he owes the state if the foreign ministry publicly asks for it and it is made clear that the government will not cover the expenses incurred 17 years ago.
In an interview with Sigma, Vassiliou reiterated that he had never been aware he owed money to the state for his trip to London to have a brain tumour removed,
Also on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Ioannis Kassoulides said he had never been told about the debt.
The issue was highlighted last week when the audit service 2016 foreign ministry report outlined – but fell short of naming – that a former president received €48,087 outside his term of office in advance for a trip to London in 2000 without ever returning it.
The money covered accommodation for a few days in May and June of that year at the Langham Hilton Hotel, Bloomsbury Park Hotel and Le Meridien Grosvenor House in London, for some days in May and June for Vassiliou, his wife, their two daughters and their husbands as well as two other people.
It included laundry expenses, tips and phone calls.
After much speculation and an erroneous publication by a daily newspaper which first said it was Demetris Christofias who owed the money, Auditor-General Odysseas Michaelides on Tuesday clarified it was Vassiliou.
The former president said it was during the time when he had travelled to London for emergency brain surgery.
Speaking to the state broadcaster, Vassiliou questioned the timing of the publication “so close to the presidential elections”, suggesting it may be related to his backing of presidential candidate Stavros Malas which has Akel’s support.
Michaelides in a statement on Wednesday said accusations of ulterior motives were unacceptable.
“We have reached the point where we are being accused because we didn’t hide from our report, a point which was included in annual reports five times in the past and published without causing any havoc. We are called to apologise because this time, due to the short length of the report, journalists highlighted this matter.”
Michaelides said he would say no more out of respect to the former president but that this point had been highlighted every year since 2011 in the audit service’s reports.
Michaelides said he was awaiting from the foreign ministry to demand the immediate settlement of any outstanding debts.
Speaking to CyBC, Kassoulides said the ministry needed some time to quietly evaluate the correct way forward in respect to those involved and the law.
“I was only made aware of the matter after it was published in the press. This was never brought before me in the past. On the other hand, the fact that this money was never asked for in 17 years is a serious problem.”
In a statement released later on Wednesday, Vassiliou stressed that no one had told him of any outstanding debt and suddenly after all these years “I saw my name, reputation and integrity tarnished in the press and social media.”
“After my initial shock and surprise, I feel the need to express my discontent in the way the auditor-general handles the operation of institutions.”
Vassiliou said he had repeatedly tried to contact Michaelides to no avail and instead “he chose to issue a statement to tarnish my name without hearing my position.”
The former president said it was obvious Michaelides was trying to tie him to misuse of public funds but the life he has lived proved the auditor wrong.
“I would just like to say that as head of Cyprus’ negotiations for EU ascension for five years, I turned down a proposed (financial) reward worth a lot more than €48,000.”
Questioned by a journalist if he would pay it back now that he knows about it, he said “I will only accept to pay back this amount if the foreign ministry says I owe them this money and the government refuses to pay it.
“Why didn’t they ask me for this money all these years?”