By Angelos Anastasiou
IT WAS entrepreneur Nikos Lillis’ turn to testify for the prosecution at the Larnaca Assize court yesterday in the controversial CyTA land scandal trial, in which eight defendants – seven persons and a legal entity – pleaded not guilty to all 28 charges presented against them last month.
The case involves a suspicious land deal in Dromolaxia paid for by the state telecoms CyTA employees’ pension fund. The seven defendants face 28 charges relating to the alleged embezzlement of €22.5 million to construct four office complexes – the ‘Aero Center’ – from the CyTA employees’ pension fund.
The accused are Stathis Kittis, former CyTA board chairman, Charalampos Tsouris, former CyTA board member, Orestis Vasiliou, former secretary general of CyTA’s employee union, Yiannis Souroullas, CyTA employee, his brother Gregoris Souroullas, employee of the land registry department, Venizelos Zannetos, member of AKEL, Antonis Ioakim, a businessman and shareholder of Wadnic Trading Ltd, and Polleson Holdings Ltd.
Lillis, one of the key prosecution witnesses, testified for four hours and offered the sequence of events relating to the case since April 2007, when the proposal to buy Turkish Cypriot Mustafa Mehmet Mustafa’s land in Dromolaxia was made to him through Mehmet’s boss, Charalampos Liotatis.
But the law mandates that the Turkish Cypriot should have resided in the Republic of Cyprus for at least six months before he could be allowed to sell his land, and Lillis said that legal difficulties in the transaction led him to seek assistance from AKEL members Zannetos – one of the defendants – and Christos Alekou, against whom charges were dropped. The two asked him to make “hefty donations” to the party in exchange for their efforts.
Due to the legal tangle that threatened to undo the deal, Lillis sought the involvement of the Central Intelligence Service. The secret police’s then-boss Vasos Georgiou informed Lillis that the agency’s initial report stated that Mehmet was not a resident of the free areas, but Service sergeants Costas Miamiliotis and Lefteris Mouskos – both facing charges along with Lillis in a separate case – later drafted a second “ironclad” report stating the contrary.
He further claimed that his close personal friend Ioakim – another of the defendants – offered to help Lillis through his AKEL connections, and named PEO union’s boss Pampis Kyritsis and Venizelos and Zannetos as possible facilitators. Lillis said that the four pressured him into repaying loans previously made by Alki football club and make donations to “the party.”
Yet later in his testimony he protested that the Alki loans were never repaid, despite Alekou stressing the need to repay them as “indebted people were at risk of jail.” Instead, Lillis claimed two cheques for over €500,000 he issued in order to repay Alki loans wound up in AKEL accounts. During this period, Lillis said, Venizelos would scold him if was late in repaying Alki’s loans.
The prosecution witness commented extensively on the money trail relating to the case, naming Kittis, Vasiliou, Yiannis Souroullas and Grigoris Souroullas as having been paid “hundreds of thousands of euros” in order to ensure that Lillis would receive the investment money from the pension fund.
Lillis’ testimony caused the defence to object at several instances, even suggesting that Lillis had been promised immunity from prosecution in a separate case he is facing charges on. Lillis defended his motives to the judges, saying that he wanted to speak out in order to help the courts dispense justice.
Meanwhile, former CyTA chairman Stathis Kittis was the one who had negotiated the price for the land on behalf of the company’s pension fund, according to the testimony of Georgios Koufaris, a CyTA senior executive.
Koufaris claimed that Kittis, along with former board member Charalampos Tsouris, showed increased interest in finalising the construction of the Aero Center on the land in Dromolaxia purchased by the CyTA employees’ pension fund.
But Koufaris claimed that despite his own disagreements with the investment and the decision to fund it from the pension fund, the issue was brought to the pension fund’s executive committee, which approved it. He also said that he was informed from the media that Lillis had bought the Turkish Cypriot’s plot of land for €1.2m.
The trial will resume on Monday morning, when Lillis will be cross-examined by Kittis’ defence attorney Yiorgos Papaioannou.