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Cyprus

Second abuse of power claim against former minister

By Stefanos Evripidou

A SECOND CASE of possible abuse of power by former health minister Petros Petrides has been sent for examination to the Attorney-general’s office, it transpired yesterday.

A police investigation is already underway into the initial allegation that in his first month in office, Petrides personally instructed the state to cover the private medical costs of one of his former patients, even though the health ministry had said the surgery could have been carried out in a public hospital.

Local daily Politis yesterday reported that Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides identified a second, almost identical, potential case of abuse of power involving Petrides, which he sent to Health Minister Philippos Patsalis for further action.

Petrides issued a defiant response yesterday. Without contesting the alleged facts, the former minister refused to apologise for his actions, claiming he was only trying to help his fellow citizens.

The first case came to light in a June 26 letter sent to the incumbent health minister by the Auditor-general who recommended opening an investigation into claims that Patsalis’ predecessor had approved a request for taxpayers to foot the bill of an operation performed on one of Petrides’ patients during his tenure at a Nicosia-based private hospital.

A few months before Petrides took office on March 1, 2013, the patient applied for state assistance to cover the medical costs of an operation carried out in the private hospital where Petrides worked.

The procedure cost over €20,000, which the woman sought from the state, also attaching a medical report from Petrides to back her claim.

The committee responsible for reviewing such claims suggested that the cost could not be covered on the grounds that the operation could have been performed at a state hospital.

However, three weeks into his post as minister, Petrides allegedly bypassed the committee and satisfied the request without any justification.

The woman reportedly received €19,105 from the state. Petrides resigned from his post a year later following his party, DIKO’s decision to leave the coalition government. He later quit the party.

The letter was also sent to the House Watchdog Committee.

Patsalis in turn sent the letter to the attorney-general who ordered the launch of a police investigation which is currently underway.

However, Politis yesterday reported that the health minister was alerted of a second almost identical case by Michaelides in a letter sent and received on August 1.

The auditor-general’s office confirmed in a released statement on Tuesday that after a preliminary investigation of information received, it was established that the complaint was valid, and required further investigation.

The health ministry released its own statement last night saying that as suggested by the auditor-general, Patsalis has passed this second case on to the attorney-general with the relevant file for examination.

Politis reported that in both cases, the patients were released from the same private hospital after undergoing surgery in January 2013. The medical reports for both operations were signed by Petrides, who a month and a half later took public office.

The medical council, examining both cases, gave its recommendations for both on March 8, 2013, proposing the state should not cover the medical expenses of either as the operations could have been carried out in a public hospital.

Some two weeks later, Petrides overruled the recommendations, giving written instructions for both applications to be satisfied without providing any justification. The second case cost the taxpayer €9,600.

Last night Petrides responded to the second revelation, saying for 40 years he had treated hundreds, if not thousands, of patients with love, zeal and dedication.

He questioned why the auditor-general, acting like “another Sherlock Holmes”, along with a certain print media, “decided that all the patients and fellow citizens referred to are not authorised or entitled to the support of the state to overcome the health problems they face”.

He argued he did not receive a single euro from any patient for the specific assistance given, “as Odysseas Michaelides knows very well, and the print media helping him defame me”.

In response, the auditor-general’s office said: “We will not comment because already a police investigation is underway.”

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