By Poly Pantelides
JUSTICE Minister Ionas Nicolaou yesterday said former Attorney-general Petros Clerides had expressed some concerns over the legality of an inquiry on Cyprus’ financial debacle, which recently issued findings, which were perceived as ‘too simplistic’ in some quarters.
Nicolaou told the public broadcaster that although Clerides said some of his staff did mention some “misgivings”, it was the Attorney-general’s responsibility, not the minister’s, to mention those misgivings to the President.
A committee of inquiry appointed by the Cabinet to investigate the country’s near financial meltdown recently handed over its final report. Its legality and effectiveness has been contested in terms of how it was set up, as well as the panel’s own decision to ignore criminal matters.
Petros Clerides, who stepped down in September a few weeks before he was due to retire, had told Nicolaou that two of his colleagues had raised concerns over the inquiry, Nicolaou said. The justice minister said the conversation took place on the day Cabinet decided to appoint the committee, but before the relevant decree was issued. Nicolaou said it was the job of Clerides, if he wished to do so, to tell president Nicos Anastasiades directly. “I’m not the [state’s] legal consultant,” Nicolaou said.
The legality of the committee was disputed in late August by main opposition party AKEL after former president Demetris Christofias walked out, refusing to answer the inquiry’s questions unless he was allowed to first read a lengthy statement.
The relevant law said the Cabinet could not appoint the committee if the Cabinet and the president were going to be subjects of the investigation, AKEL said. When Anastasiades appointed the committee, he had asked its members to start their investigation with him.
When the matter came up for discussion, Clerides said he had not been asked to deliver a legal opinion by the government. Nicolaou insisted yesterday the committee’s appointment was legal but what mattered now was the criminal investigation, he said.
The attorney-general’s office had instructed the police chief to launch criminal investigations after the inquiry decided in late June to backtrack on its mandate to investigate criminal or civil responsibility and only touch matters pertaining to political responsibility.
The committee’s decision left out of its remit some of the most controversial aspects of the events that led to Cyprus’ current economic woes.
Nicolaou did concede yesterday that the final panel report was less helpful than anticipated.
One of the panel’s expert consultants, academic Stavros Zenios, told financial news portal Stockwatch the committee had refused to look at “important data” concerning “strictly confidential evidence that would have illuminated aspects [of the investigation]”.
One of the inquiry members who had disagreed with the majority decision to ignore criminal matters, Iliana Nicolaou, drew on Zenios’ work to describe in a supplementary report the “vicious circle of co-dependency of the banking system and public finances”.
The report itself relied mostly on testimonies, and blamed former President Demetris Christofias and to a lesser extent, some political parties, for the state of the economy. It only held Anastasiades accountable for his perceived lack of preparedness during vital bailout talks.
Critics, including Zenios, pointed out that general statements of responsibility are of very little use to criminal investigators.