By Stefanos Evripidou
INVESTIGATIONS into the multimillion euro real estate deal involving state telecoms company (CyTA) took on new proportions yesterday after allegations were made of millions given in bribes to unions, a political party, an MP and a leading CyTA official.
Responding to the allegations, CyTA Chairman Stathos Kittis went on the counter-attack, accusing Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos of operating on behalf of family interests.
AKEL leader Andros Kyprianou called for a full investigation into the case while AKEL heavyweight and MP Nicos Katsourides threatened to sue.
The case involves the purchase of land near Larnaca Airport in 2011 on behalf of CyTA’s pension fund at allegedly twice its value when a nearby piece of land was reportedly being sold for far less. Reports have said the land was bought for between €20m and €27m.
Hasikos appointed a three-member investigative committee last month to look into the issue, claiming that it was “a stitch-up from beginning to end”.
The land in Dromolaxia was sold to a Greek Cypriot businessman who allegedly changed the term of use of the land, upgraded the coefficients, built on it and sold it on to the CyTA pension fund, allegedly at over ten times the price he bought it from the Turkish Cypriot original owner.
Last week it transpired that the Secret Service (KYP) had produced two opposing reports on whether the Turkish Cypriot in question had resided in the government-controlled areas for six months prior to selling the land.
A number of local papers yesterday reported on the testimony given by businessman Charalambos Liotatis and his wife Panayiota to the investigating committee earlier in the week.
According to multiple press reports, Liotatis claimed that he had lent over €1m to the company that had bought the land from the Turkish Cypriot.
In their testimonies, the couple stated that the Turkish Cypriot had never resided in the government-controlled areas but was employed by them for a number of years.
Liotatis said he was encouraged to invest in the project, which he was told would make a large profit.
However, when CyTA paid the first sum of €9.2m on November 3, 2011 for the purchase, Liotatis allegedly went to a main company official selling the land to seek a return on his loan.
The company official allegedly told Liotatis that he didn’t have the money to give him because he had to pay a number of bribes first, with €1m allegedly earmarked for an MP, another €1m to a senior CyTA official, and an unspecified sum to a political party.
Liotatis also said he overheard a company lawyer and accountant saying that €500,000 would have to be paid to two large unions for the deal to go through.
The company last night released a statement denying all of Liotatis’ allegations.
Responding to the allegations yesterday, Kittis argued the case was “rigged” while allegations of him taking bribes were “blatantly false”.
“It seems that this is clearly a rigged case, which is trying to undermine and blacken the image of public figures, and I’m speaking of course about myself at this point.”
He added: “Behind the whole case appears to be the interior minister.”
Kittis argued the only other land available than the one that CyTA eventually bought was owned by Airsun Properties Ltd, which he said was owned by family members of Hasikos.
He presented documents from the Registrar of Companies showing that Airsun was majority owned by Hasikos’ father-in-law Frixos Koulermos, while Liotatis owned 0.5 per cent of the company. A company owned by Hasikos’ sister-in-law and husband also had shares.
“I reject whatever has been said about so-called bribes and other things,” he said.
Kittis said his bank accounts were available for investigation, “but will the interior minister open his accounts?”
Regarding the land in question, Kittis argued that due process was carried out with full feasibility studies and external audits undertaken, which determined that the CyTA pension fund could offer office space near the airport at a substantially reduced price than what the airports currently offer, making the fund around 7 per cent returns.
For his part, Hasikos declared he has “no connection to any business or property or ownership of Frixos Koulermos, my father-in-law”, though he did confirm that Liotatis owned 0.5 per cent of the shares of Airsun.
He further warned Kittis that the authorities would investigate every purchase he ever made on behalf of CyTA, and the pension fund.
“Whatever CyTA bought, the pension fund of CyTA employees, immoveable property, he can be sure he’ll be checked out.”
AKEL leader Andros Kyprianou said his party had nothing to do with the allegations and called for a full inquiry to provide clarity on the matter.
Katsourides said he was surprised to hear his name involved in the case and questioned the motives of Liotatis. Arguing the claims are groundless, the MP said he would take legal action against the allegations.
PEO union also released a statement yesterday saying it had nothing to do with the scandals referred to in the press and called for the truth to shine.
According to reports, two CyTA board members resigned yesterday, vice-president Loizos Papacharalambous and Antonis Antoniou, citing the irreparable damage done to the reputation of the organisation.
The two called for a full investigation into the allegations.