By Stefanos Evripidou
UNION REPRESENTATIVE of state telecommunications company CyTA, Orestis Vassiliou, was remanded for seven days by the Larnaca district court yesterday in connection with allegations of kickbacks in a dubious land deal worth over €20 million involving the CyTA pension fund.
Vassiliou was arrested at Larnaca airport on his arrival from Athens at around 10am yesterday morning. Before issuing the seven-day remand, the Larnaca court heard from investigating officer Eleftherios Kyriacou that there was reasonable suspicion connecting Vassiliou to 16 offences, including conspiracy to commit a crime, conspiracy to defraud, fraud, abuse of power, theft by a public official, money laundering, corruption and accepting bribery, all allegedly committed between November 2009 and September 24, 2013 in Nicosia and Larnaca.
The CyTA union rep is one of four suspects for whom arrest warrants were issued on Tuesday in connection with the Dromolaxia land deal worth millions of euros.
Since the case came to light, police believe they have evidence and testimony connecting a number of people to alleged kickbacks to make the land deal possible, with a large amount of money also allegedly paid to AKEL, the ruling party at the time.
CyTA chairman Stathis Kittis, senior CyTA employee Yiannis Souroullas and his brother Gregoris, a land registry official, were remanded in custody for eight days on Wednesday in connection with the case.
Kittis allegedly received €300,000 in kickbacks in the form of cheques and in cash, allegedly handed over in bags at cafes in Nicosia and Larnaca in 2011 and 2012.
The other three suspects, the Souroullas brothers and Vassiliou, were allegedly linked to a company that also received hundreds of thousands of euros in kickbacks.
Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou yesterday sent the message that the days of impunity are over, vowing to go after anyone linked to the case, whatever their position.
“I want to assure you that for any person, whoever they may be, wherever they are or wherever they belong (whichever party), from the moment there is material connecting them to a crime regarding this case, you can be certain they will be arrested and face justice,” said Nicolaou.
The Larnaca court heard yesterday that police wish to take around 50 more testimonies, adding to the dozens already taken and are waiting to have the banking data of the suspects made available to investigators.
The land deal in question involved the purchase by CyTA’s pension fund of office space near Larnaca airport at a price reportedly several times the going market value.
Prosecutors have already charged businessman Nicos Lillis and two police officers, Costas Miamiliotis and Lefteris Mouskou, in connection with the case.
Lillis, also the chairman of ALKI football club, had been implicated by businessman Charalambos Liotatis who claimed he had lent the suspect €1.6 million to get the ball rolling on the deal.
Liotatis had told police that the deal between Wadnic Trading, owned by Lillis, and the pension fund, would be facilitated by high-ranking officials, namely Kittis.
Lillis had allegedly told Liotatis that certain AKEL members and ALKI club officials had mortgaged their homes to help the football team out of a crisis, making the land deal an attractive opportunity for those in debt to get out of the red.
However, on receiving a €9.2 million down payment from the pension fund, Lillis allegedly refused to pay Liotatis back the loan, saying a significant amount had to be used in kickbacks, referring to Kittis, an unnamed AKEL MP and the then ruling party, AKEL.
AKEL’s Larnaca district committee received €234,000. The local branch released a statement on Wednesday admitting it received the money, but denied it had benefited from any dodgy dealings, claiming it was used to pay off debts linked with ALKI.
The money was put into the party’s account because some of its members had taken part in a committee set up to raise cash to pay the club’s debts, the statement said.
AKEL leader Andros Kyprianou said yesterday he had no reason to suspect the local branch of anything untoward but acknowledged that measures had to be taken to ensure there was no repeat.
The opposition party was currently discussing the establishment of a single accounting authority to keep a check centrally on what all its branches are doing, he said.
“Shadows have been cast on the moral stature of AKEL,” he said, adding, that AKEL will launch internal investigations to clarify the situation.
Kyprianou bemoaned the fact that “honest” people’s names were being dragged through the mud by allegations made in testimonies and called for the whole case to be cleared up and those found guilty to be made an example of through their punishment.
“It is obvious that some people schemed to make money at the expense of the public. It appears things did not develop the way they were supposed to and now they have started accusing others,” said Kyprianou.
He has also advised AKEL members linked to the case to take legal advice to protect their name and reputation.
At the same time, the AKEL leadership has an obligation to take the initiative in adopting institutional measures to ensure such phenomena are not repeated again, he said.
“We need radical solutions for where we’re at now.”