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Cyprus

CyTA advisory committee had reservations about suspect deal

According to witness Maria Hadjigeorgiou the then chairman of CyTA Stathis Kittis was eager to conclude the deal as soon as possible

By Elias Hazou

FORMER chairman of the Cyprus Telecommunications Authority (CyTA) Stathis Kittis sat on the panel that ultimately approved investing over €21m in a development project on land initially worth €1m.

Maria Hadjigeorgiou, secretary of the CyTA advisory committee for infrastructure projects, yesterday told Larnaca criminal court that Kittis was one of three members of a special panel set up to assess the proposed investment in a development project – the Aero Centre – in Dromolaxia, Larnaca.

She was testifying as a witness for the prosecution in the ongoing trial concerning the investment into the Aero Centre by the CyTA pension fund, where allegedly hundreds of thousands of euros traded hands in kickbacks.

Hadjigeorgiou revealed that up until January of 2014 the CyTA pension fund paid €21.6m for the Aero Centre investment.

She said the advisory committee of which she was a member had strong reservations about the investment, chiefly due to the fact that the initial proposal by the seller was judged to be lacking key data.

During the key year of 2010, and amid the advisory committee’s misapprehensions over the investment, another panel consisting of just three persons was set up. This smaller panel included Kittis as well as Charalambos Tsouris, a member of the CyTA board at the time.

Kittis and Tsouris are among the defendants in the trial, facing charges of embezzlement. The panel of which they were members subsequently gave the nod to the investment deal.

The first overtures to sell CyTA a stake in the development project were made by a company by the name of Clarsano. In July 2010 Clarsano informed CyTA that it was interested in selling the latter four units in the Aero Center project for €19.92m.

In the end CyTA opted to close the deal with another company, Wadnic Trading Ltd. The agreement was signed in February 2011.

The land in Dromolaxia was purchased by Wadnic Trading, which managed to upgrade the coefficients, built on it and sold it on to the CyTA pension fund at several times the land’s market value.

Hadjigeorgiou’s testimony in court yesterday hinted that certain people within CyTA were anxious for the deal to go through as soon as possible. She related an incident during the Christmas season of 2010, when she had asked to take a short holiday. Kittis was unhappy with her taking leave, at one point telling her: “We can’t wait for you to get back.”

Hadjigeorgiou also that during the time Kittis was chairman of CyTA the telecoms utility poured €77m overall into real estate investments in Nicosia, Limassol and Larnaca.

The defendants in the case are: Kittis; Tsouris; 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; and Antonis Ioakim, a businessman and shareholder of Wadnic Trading Ltd. They have pleaded not guilty.

The trial continues.


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