A mistake made by police officers in a search warrant has thrown into doubt the trial of a couple suspected of stealing over €300,000 in cash and valuables from bank safety deposit boxes in Larnaca.
Unemployed sign maker Marios Loizou, 37, and his 33-year-old wife Sotira Georgiou are accused of money laundering in connection with the theft of €313,000 in cash and valuables from safety deposit boxes at Solidarity Co-op and the Bank of Cyprus between March 2015 and January 2016.
But a mistake made by the police officers in the search warrant has rendered it invalid, along with a long list of items seized at the suspects’ home and used as evidence.
The court held a trial within a trial after the defence raised objections on the validity of the search carried out at the suspects’ home in January 2016.
The problem was that the officers who showed up for the search had a search warrant with the address of Loizou’s business instead of his home.
The officers spotted the mistake and called the judge, who corrected the mistake, but neither the first nor the second document included the time at which they were issued.
“The absence of the time of issuance on the second warrant is catalytic,” the three-member criminal court said. “The absence of the time of issuance constitutes a substantive flaw and omission on the face of the warrant to the extent that it renders it nonexistent …” the court said.
“In essence, the police officers never had a search warrant in their hands for execution.”
The court said the entire list of items recorded on the action log are products seized during an illegal search and cannot constitute evidence.
Included on the list were two cars worth €10,000 and €28,000, a motorcycle worth €12,000, a collection of alcoholic drinks that cost €14,600, jewelry valued at €15,600 and a house renovation that cost €10,000.
Police said the break-ins and thefts were carried out by a person who had access to the area when the branches were open.
The 37-year-old suspect was the only individual from the list of customers who had a box at both branches.
There were no security cameras in the rooms where the safety deposits were stored and customers were left alone while accessing their boxes.
According to police, when the 37-year-old suspect accessed his safety deposit, he would request to remain for twice the time other customers spent – around 20 minutes instead of 10 — and always had two bags with him.
His visits coincided with the period the thefts took place, police said.
The suspect used a special home-made tool, which left little or no sign on the outside of the boxes he opened.