By George Psyllides
POLICE yesterday arrested three suspects, two of whom were members of former ruling party AKEL, in connection with a suspicious land deal involving the pension fund of state telecommunications company CyTA, prompting party leader Andros Kyprianou to cry foul.
Kyprianou suggested the arrests were part of a political witch hunt against his party, a claim later rejected by President Nicos Anastasiades.
The president said it saddened him to hear Kyprianou linking criminal investigations with political intentions, adding that the state Legal Service was an independent institution.
Anastasiades stressed that the ongoing investigation focused on a financial scandal, not any particular party, noting that one of those arrested has links to the ruling DISY party.
“Let it be made clear once and for all: there is zero tolerance for corruption whoever is involved and whatever their political connections,” Anastasiades said.
According to the Cyprus News Agency, police yesterday detained Venizelos Zanettos, 66, a member of the party’s secretariat and financial controller, and Christos Alecou, 57, a member of the secretariat.
The third suspect is businessman 55-year-old Antonis Ioakim, reportedly a shareholder of the company involved in the €20.5 million deal concerning land in Dromolaxia, Larnaca.
The suspects are expected to be brought before court today for a remand hearing.
Police said the three had been named by businessman Nicos Lillis who has already been charged in connection with the case.
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.
Allegations have surfaced that millions were paid in kickbacks to make the deal possible.
Yesterday’s arrests follow those of CyTA chairman Stathis Kittis, senior CyTA employee Yiannis Souroullas and his brother Gregoris, who works for the land registry, and union rep Orestis Vassiliou.
All four are suspected of receiving hundreds of thousands of euros in kickbacks.
Last week, a court heard that Kittis and an unnamed AKEL MP had received one million euros each in kickbacks.
AKEL’s Larnaca branch received €234,000.
The latter was confirmed by the party, which denied however, that it was a kickback.
Along with Lillis, prosecutors have charged two police officers, Costas Miamiliotis and Lefteris Mouskou, in connection with the case.
The officers were allegedly paid to produce a false report saying the Turkish Cypriot seller of the land had resided in the government-controlled areas for six months – a necessary condition — prior to selling the land.
Lillis and the two officers were scheduled to appear before the criminal court yesterday but the attorney-general withdrew the case and referred it to the district court instead.
Unlike the criminal courts that can jail people for life, depending on the offense, the maximum custodial sentence imposed by district courts is five years.
The three along with Wadnic, a company belonging to Lillis, now face 18 charges, instead of the original 19, but of similar nature.
They include conspiracy to defraud, bribery, abuse of power, and money laundering.
The case was set for November 4.
It was suggested that moving the case to the district court was part of a deal to get Lillis to testify against the others but there was no official confirmation.
To AKEL however, this was exactly what it meant.
AKEL spoke of a conspiracy aimed at hurting the party and diverting attention from the country’s real problems.
Party leader Andros Kyprianou said the intention to turn Lillis from a defendant into a prosecutor was obvious and there was a serious possibility of him receiving a lighter sentence.
“Instead of asking for a statement to get the AKEL officials’ version, police issued arrest warrants, a shameful practice for a democratic and European country,” Kyprianou said in a written statement.
He urged party members to remain calm in the face of the “attack” and vowed that AKEL would defend itself and any of its members who were unjustly prosecuted.
“Rest assured that no conspiracy will succeed in hurting AKEL,” Kyprianou said. “Our party will emerge strong and united from this procedure.”
In a written statement released last night in response to the AKEL leader’s comments, Attorney-general Costas Clerides and deputy AG Riccos Erotocritou said their job was to prosecute not persecute people for non-legal reasons.
The two legal chiefs reminded that it was within the constitutional and legislative powers and discretion of the AG and legal service, based on legal criteria, to refer this specific case to the Larnaca district court.
One of the legal criteria examined when making their decision was the fact that the case involved a total sum of no more than €50,000.
Clerides and Erotocritou added that every day district courts hear cases involving sums up to four times that amount and on much heavier fraud charges than the one under consideration in this case. The AG, deputy AG and legal service are responsible for “prosecuting”, not “persecuting” anyone for non-legal reasons, they said.
Regarding the AKEL leader’s doubts over the reasons for issuing the three arrest warrants yesterday, the AG and deputy AG said: “Based on the law and constitution, whether the issuance of an arrest warrant is justified or not is judged exclusively by the Court and no one else, and that happened (yesterday) in the Larnaca District Court.”