By George Psyllides
AUTHORITIES will seek the extradition of former interior minister Dinos Michaelides, wanted by Greece in connection with money laundering, despite seemingly insurmountable legal obstacles, it emerged on Friday.
Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou said it was Cyprus’ obligation to execute a European arrest warrant issued by Greece for Michaelides and his son Michalis, but it was up to the court to decide.
Greece has issued arrest warrants for the pair in connection with a case involving former Greek defence minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos.
The investigation concerns alleged kickbacks paid in the purchase by Greece of the Russian TOR-M1 surface-to-air missile system.
The two denied the allegations.
Attorney-general Petros Clerides highlighted the legal difficulties faced by the authorities and suggested it was all parliament’s doing.
The alleged offences had taken place in the 1990s and Cyprus’ constitution currently prohibits the extradition of Cypriot nationals for events or actions that happened before the country joined the European Union on May 1, 2004.
Before it was changed, in 2005, the constitution banned the extradition of Cypriots outright.
Clerides argued, as he did at the time, that no restriction should have been placed.
“And here lies the parliament’s responsibility,” the attorney-general told the state broadcaster.
He said his suggestion was correct, politically and legally, because that was what the EU directive on arrest warrants provided.
“If the court decided they will not be extradited, it is up to parliament to amend the constitution, as should have been done from the beginning,” Clerides said.
On Thursday, ruling DISY urged authorities to find ways to overcome legal obstacles and extradite Michaelides.
They were echoed by the Green party on Friday, while AKEL leader Andros Kyprianou urged Michaelides and his son to co-operate with the authorities.
DIKO, Michaelides’ party, reiterated that everyone was innocent until proven guilty and did not comment on the matter of the extradition.
Dinos and Michalis Michaelides were recently summoned to Athens to respond to questions by Greek investigators but failed to show up.
They said they had explained the reasons why they did not turn up through their lawyer.
The former Cypriot minister and his son are suspected of money laundering, involving alleged kickbacks of €7.7 million believed to have eventually ended up in the hands of Tsohatzopoulos who signed the agreement for the supply of the missile system.
Greek investigators believe the millions in kickbacks were sent from one offshore company to Michalis Michaelides’ account to which his father Dinos also had access.
Tsohatzopoulos, 73, was arrested in April 2012 on money laundering charges in the biggest scandal in Greece involving a politician.