Cyprus Mail

CY chairman denies personal spending spree on wine and cars

CY chairman Antonis Antoniou

By Angelos Anastasiou

CYPRUS Airways chairman Tony Antoniou on Friday refuted press allegations that he had passed personal expenses of about €2,500 onto the cash-strapped airline, saying that these were inaccurate.

Finance Minister Harris Georgiades reportedly sent a letter to Antoniou, asking him to comment on allegations made by company insiders that he was responsible for financial irregularities and awarded a major contract after bypassing tender procedures, daily Politis reported on Friday.

According to the paper, Antoniou had allegedly charged personal expenses to the company’s books, including speeding fines and his car servicing tab, which had cost over €1,000, as well as the purchase of 480 bottles of wine. The report also claimed that the chairman had personally assigned a project worth more than €86,000 without engaging the carrier’s tender department.

Antoniou admitted on Friday he had received Georgiades’ letter but fell short of a clean dismissal of the accusations.

“I received a letter from the Finance Minister last Tuesday, in which he asked me to answer certain questions,” he said. “Comprehensive answers to these questions will be prepared today and forwarded to the Finance Minister, and I categorically state that everything relating to these minor issues – these are not very serious matters – will be evidenced.”

Though not denying the items listed in Georgiades’ letter were true, Antoniou implied that he was in a position to offer adequate explanations.

“There are several inaccuracies in the allegations,” he said, and asked the press to be “a little patient.”

“Once the evidence is given to the Finance Minister I will call the press for full disclosure,” he said.

But when asked whether he had charged personal expenses to Cyprus Airways, Antoniou abandoned his plan of secrecy and offered the crux of his defence.

“I want to be unequivocal,” he said. “I have been using my own car daily and on weekends, I have not accepted a company car, nor have I accepted a salary, like others, I have accepted nothing at all.”

“My sole aim during my time at the helm of Cyprus Airways has been to serve from a position in which both myself and the board feel that we have what it takes to save the national carrier,” he concluded.

Predictably, pilots’ union PASYPI – in the midst of a gruelling battle with the airline’s board over downsizing decisions – weighed in, in an effort to score some easy points during the chairman’s moment of weakness.

“Reading today’s reports, we stress the significance of control with regard to contracts worth millions from government companies,” PASYPI’s statement read. “We also stress that investigations should be carried out in order to avoid mismanagement and scandals.”

The statement also referred to a House Watchdog committee session that had been scheduled and postponed on June 10 by committee chairman Georgios Georgiou, which was set to discuss the sale of Cyprus Airways’ assets. The cancellation of the session had caused the protesting pilots – who had viciously opposed the planned sale of the company’s sole remaining Heathrow time slot – to erupt.

“The postponement of the Watchdog committee session, which had been set to discuss the sale of Cyprus Airways’ assets was a serious mistake, since the required parliamentary control over transactions worth tens of millions had not been performed.”

Meanwhile, PASYPI representatives met with a delegation from the Green party yesterday, in which they argued in favour of replacing the airline’s current management with a team of experts to settle all scores.

“There is a dire need to hire a company of professionals with a track record and expertise in restructuring airlines, so that they can take over not just the running of the company, but also to find a strategic investor, as well as promote Cyprus Airways’ case in the European Competition Authority,” said the union’s secretary Chrysanthos Hadjichrysanthou.

“Our union feels that with the right decisions by the government and the House, Cyprus Airways will remain a vital lung for the Cyprus economy. Should Cyprus Airways be wound down, not only would unemployment increase, but it would also deprive the economy of the income, meaning that the money Cypriots would spend to travel abroad would end up abroad.”

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