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Extradition case takes new turn after constitution change

Dinos Michaelides (L)

By George Psyllides

GREEK authorities revoked a European arrest warrant for the island’s former interior minister and issued a new one following the amendment of the constitution to allow extradition of Cypriots for offences committed before 2004.

The move is thought to be designed to bypass an ongoing legal procedure that started when Greece issued the first warrant for Dinos Michaelides and son Michalis, wanted in connection with a money laundering case involving former Greek defence minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos.

The first warrant was issued when Cyprus’ constitution banned the extradition of Cypriot nationals for offences committed before the island’s accession into the EU in May 2004.
That however, was changed earlier this month.

The alleged offences the pair are sought for took place between 1997 and 2001.

They claim they are innocent but have refused to consent to their extradition, saying they want to be tried in Cyprus instead.

Yesterday, the scheduled date for the hearing, state prosecutors informed the court of the decision by Greek authorities to revoke the first warrant and issue a fresh one.

The state requested termination of the procedure, which it now considered obsolete.

Defence lawyers asked for time to examine the new state of affairs, which they claimed infringed on an individual’s right to freedom.

They want the current procedure to continue.

The court decided to hear the defence’s arguments in a new hearing set for today.

Michaelides’ main defence attorney Efstathios Efstathiou said Greece’s decision had been a surprise development designed to “deprive the rights” of his clients and succeed in extraditing them.

The investigation involves the purchase by Greece of the Russian TOR-M1 surface-to-air missile system and alleged kickbacks given.

The former minister and his son are suspected of money laundering, involving alleged kickbacks €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.

His cousin, businessman Nicos Zigras, who was also arrested in connection with the affair, testified to Greek authorities last year that Michaelides transferred cash linked to the acquisition of the missile systems.

Dinos Michaelides was forced to step down as interior minister in 1999 during Glafcos Clerides’ administration after ombudswoman Eliana Nicoloaou questioned planning changes to land which Michaelides later bought and built a luxury home on.

Michaelides said at the time he was being “defamed”. He also served as interior minister between 1985 and 1988 for the Spyros Kyprianou government and between 1993 and 1997, again for Clerides.

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