By Peter Stevenson
FORMER Interior Minister Dinos Michaelides was escorted to Larnaca airport on Thursday evening where he was handed over to Greek authorities who will question him as part of an inquiry against Akis Tsohatzopoulos.
At around 3pm Michaelides left his cell at the Central Prisons, escorted by police officers and prison guards to go to Larnaca airport where he boarded an Aegean Airlines plane which left for Athens at 6pm.
He was handed over to Greek investigators at the plane’s entrance with his police escort also travelling to Athens with him.
Michaelides, 75, is the first Cypriot government or former government official to be extradited to Greece where authorities want to question him as part of a graft inquiry against former Greek minister Tsohatzopoulos.
Tsohatzopoulos, a founding member of Greece’s socialist PASOK party, is facing charges of accepting kickbacks for arms contracts when he was defence minister. He denies the charges.
Greek prosecutors allege Tsohatzopoulos siphoned funds overseas. They say one of his co-defendants has alleged that Michaelides helped Tsohatzopoulos set up bank accounts, and that they want to question the former Cypriot minister about that.
Michaelides denies any wrongdoing.
He served as interior minister in two governments, the second stint in the late 1990s, and has since maintained a legal practice.
Greek authorities issued an arrest warrant against Michaelides when he failed to respond to a summons to appear in an Athens court earlier this year.
His lawyers had fought the extradition, appealing against a district court’s verdict which said he had to go to Greece. Among other things, they argued that the media coverage and public statements on the affair had prejudiced the lower court’s decision.
However the Supreme Court upheld the previous ruling and Michaelides has no further right of appeal. The court said he must be extradited within 10 days.
Both Michaelides and his son Michalis are wanted in Greece in connection with alleged kickbacks paid in the purchase by Greece of Russian TOR-M1 surface-to-air missile systems.