By Elias Hazou
A SENIOR trade unionist with the Cyprus Telecommunications Authority (CyTA) yesterday raised a number of flags over the contentious purchase of a land plot near Larnaca airport.
Harris Pafitis, head of the CyTA union SEP-ATIK, told an investigative panel how hundreds of the telecom’s employees opposed the deal and had drawn up a petition in a bid to stop it.
The land in Dromolaxia, near Larnaca airport, was bought in 2007 from its Turkish Cypriot owner by the Greek Cypriot company Wadnic Trading Ltd for €1,273,770, whereas the land registry – for the purposes of calculating the transfer fees – had placed the value at €2,970,000.
Allegations have since surfaced of millions given in kickbacks to unions, a political party, an MP and a CyTA official.
In his testimony yesterday, Pafitis pilloried the handling of investments by the CyTA pension fund’s management committee.
Often, he said, investments lacked oversight. Regarding the purchase of the land in Dromolaxia, Pafitis said a number of CyTA employees had wanted the transaction to be audited by the Auditor-general, but their request fell on deaf ears.
Pafitis also shot down contentions made by Stathis Kittis, CyTA chairman and head of the pension fund management committee. In comments to the media, Kittis – who has yet to appear before the panel – has denied any wrongdoing and claims the deal was beneficial to the semi-state organisation.
But Pafitis had a completely different take: often the fund’s management committee did not listen to its investment consultants, AON Hewitt. The consultants had repeatedly cautioned both Kittis and others on the pension fund committee against acquiring real estate directly, advising instead an indirect approach, such as purchasing stock in investment funds that are involved in buying immovable property.
The trade unionist submitted documents indicating that whereas Wadnic Trading Ltd continued collecting monies from CyTA for construction work (offices) on the land plot, Wadnic itself did not then use the cash to pay the contractors.
As a result, said Pafitis, by September 2012 Wadnic owed contractors some €800,000.
The SEP-ATIK union regarded the transaction as illegal as it lacked any financial oversight. In January 2011 the union denounced the deal to the House Finance, Ethics and Watchdog committees.
The Watchdog committee held three sessions in January and February of 2011 to discuss the matter.
According to Pafitis, attending all these hearings was AKEL MP Nicos Katsourides – despite the fact he did not sit on the Watchdog committee.
Moreover, Katsourides appeared to take a vivid interest in the proceedings, to the extent that – according to Pafitis – he seemed to be running the show.
He also got the sense that Katsourides was trying to filibuster the proceedings by raising a number of procedural issues.
At one point during one of the hearings, Pafitis saw Katsourides approach Orestis Vasiliou, head of another CyTA-linked trade union. Katsourides and Vasiliou then stepped out of the room and returned about 15 minutes later.
Pafitis also named Vasiliou as being instrumental within CyTA in blocking a petition against the land deal signed by 963 members of the pension fund.
The inquiry into the land deal continues. CyTA chairman Kittis will be appearing before the panel next week. In a statement released by his lawyer yesterday, Kittis said he would present evidence proving that all of CyTA’s actions were above aboard.