IT WAS inevitable that the investigation into the causes of the collapse of the economy would degenerate into a legalistic issue. Everything in Cyprus seems to end up as a legalistic dispute so it was no surprise to hear last week that the panel of three judges conducting the investigation would not deal with matters that were before the courts.
This was in reference to the legal action taken against Laiki’s Andreas Vgenopoulos and his associates by the bank’s administrator. However the panel of judges were to carry on the investigation into other aspects of the banking collapse, but the government has now decided that the police will take over, as they will also be probing the purchase of the Russian bank Uniastrum by the Bank of Cyprus, as DIKO leader Marios Garoyian had demanded.
Strangely, Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou expressed his displeasure with the investigative committee’s plan to carry on looking into the banking collapse, rather than waiting for the council of ministers to take a decision about the terms of reference. It is all a mess, the general impression being that nobody really knows what they are doing. On Tuesday the committee issued an announcement saying the cabinet could terminate the inquiry before a report was completed.
Is this a childish game of tit-for-tat between the government and the committee? The only thing the two sides have achieved with this puerile behaviour is to destroy the credibility of the investigation and raise questions about the government’s commitment to establishing who were responsible for the collapse of the banking sector and the economy. Was the decision to order the police to start a criminal investigation an attempt to terminate the probe by the judges or did the government feel it was dragging on for too long?
Perhaps we have missed something, but nobody seems remotely interested in the political responsibilities for the collapse. Several ministry officials and former finance ministers have spoken about former president Christofias’ refusal to take any measures that could have prevented the collapse. Was he not culpable for abject failure to take any unpopular, but necessary measures, despite countless warnings from home and abroad? Was he not culpable for allowing a manageable situation veer completely out of control through years of inaction?
Perhaps incompetence, indecisiveness and poor judgement cannot lead to criminal prosecution, but gross dereliction of duty and negligence should be prosecutable. But the legalistic disputes of the last week would suggest that the government wants to restrict the investigation to the banks and the bankers, leaving the main culprit free to walk.