By Stefanos Evripidou
THE PROCESS of dismissing a governor of the Central Bank of Cyprus (CBC) has never been used before and would require a certain amount of “improvisation”, warned new Attorney-general Costas Clerides yesterday.
Asked to comment on President Nicos Anastasiades’ deliberations on the possible dismissal of CBC governor Panicos Demetriades, Clerides said he was only informed through the media that the president was considering this action.
In a televised interview on Wednesday night, the president accused Demetriades of weakness and inadequacy to do the job at hand, adding that he was considering setting in motion the legal procedures necessary to remove a central bank governor.
Speaking to state broadcaster CyBC yesterday, Clerides said: “From what I remember of constitutional provisions, although before it was relatively easy to dismiss a central bank governor, following our accession to the EU, certain safeguards have been put in place.”
The safeguards in question provide for a “very specialised procedure leading to the Supreme Council of Judicature which handles the issue”, said the AG.
“This procedure has never been used before. I cannot tell you that it is familiar ground for anyone. There will be a certain amount of improvisation.”
Asked whether the charges of weakness and inadequacy fulfilled the criteria necessary to get rid of a central bank governor, Clerides, a former Supreme Court judge, said: “The framework provided by the constitution is always much more general than that and to what extent specific cases regarding the interested party fall within that definition is something which has to be examined by the Council.”
Doros Ioannides, head of the Cyprus Bar Association, said yesterday that post-EU accession, the CBC governor’s independence was fully protected, putting a lot of power in his hands.
He warned that the government would need the consent of the European Central Bank (ECB) to dismiss the governor.
Head of the ruling party DISY’s legal counsel, Christos Triantafyllides, said Anastasiades would have to come very well prepared to convince the ECB that the government is not interfering in the work of the CBC.
“It is a difficult step legally, but one that must be done if the evidence exists which justify such an action. Because (Demetriades) is part of the network of the ECB along with other governors of other countries. “We would have to ensure that what we are doing is well supported by proof to convince the ECB that we are not interfering with the independence of the CBC,” said Triantafyllides.
Earlier this year, when the government had first raised the option of getting rid of Demetriades over his handling of the banking crisis and post-Eurogroup period, ECB President Mario Draghi warned that the legality of any dismissal would be judged by the EU Court of Justice.
In 2002, as part of Cyprus’ obligations to harmonise with EU law ahead of accession, a fourth amendment of the Cyprus Constitution was passed, changing the procedures for the dismissal of the governor or deputy governor of the CBC. The new process is now covered by Article 118 paragraph 4 and Article 153 paragraph 8 of the Constitution.
Whereas before, dismissal was relatively simply, after 2002, the governor or deputy governor can be removed from office “only if in the judgement of the council… they no longer meet the conditions required for the performance of their duties or are guilty of serious misconduct”.
A high-ranking judicial officer told the Cyprus Mail yesterday that a case brought before the Supreme Council of Judicature would have to conform to the rules of natural justice, meaning an allegation would have to be made and evidence produced to support the charge, while the accused will have a chance to defend himself.
While any charge would relate to a disciplinary offence, Article 12 of the Constitution provides that the rules governing a criminal trial apply, meaning the Council will have to be convinced of the guilt of the accused “beyond a reasonable doubt”.
“It’s never happened before, but as I see it, someone will have to issue a charge against the governor; he will be called to reply; evidence will be tabled to prove the charge, and the governor will have the right to defend himself,” said the high-ranking official.
The Cyprus Constitution originally provided that the Supreme Council of Judicature included a Greek judge and Turkish judge but following the outbreak of interethnic conflict in 1963/64, the Law of Necessity was used effectively to replace the Council with all 13 members of the Supreme Court.
The Council also has the power to dismiss a member of the Supreme Court or district court judge if they are found to be guilty of misconduct.
This provision has never been used against a supreme court judge, but was once used a few years back to dismiss a district court judge for a disciplinary offence.