By Angelos Anastasiou
Auditor General Odysseas Michaelides’ investigation into alleged misconduct by former Health minister Petros Petrides seems likely to end up in court regardless of its conclusion as Michaelides on Tuesday rejected claims by Petrides’ lawyers that he has violated their clients’ constitutional rights.
Michaelides had identified three counts of personal intervention by Petrides during his time as Health minister – March 2013 to March 2014 – to approve the reimbursement by the government of surgeries performed on former patients of his privately.
The patients’ reimbursement applications had been rejected by the competent medical council on the grounds that the operations could have been performed by public hospitals, but Petrides subsequently stepped in to overrule the council’s decision.
In a letter addressed to the Audit Service by Achilleas and Emilios K. Emilianides law firm, on behalf of their client – Petrides – the lawyers claim Michaelides has exceeded the terms of his mandate.
“The framework of powers granted to the Auditor General in no way includes the power to determine, even in the first instance, the committing of a criminal offence, much less so for such committing by government ministers,” the letter said.
Petrides’ lawyers also argue that Michaelides’ tactic of leaking letters to the press “undoubtedly damages our client irrevocably.”
“Finally, in the course of exercising your duties,” the letter added, “you appear to have violated the law mandating that any person likely to suffer by your actions is entitled to be heard. Prior hearing by the affected party is substantiated by the nature of your letters as they refer to criminal offences.”
On Tuesday, the Auditor General issued a letter of response, rejecting the premise of the accusations against him and citing the law governing his office’s mandate.
“To avoid any doubt, this law stipulates that the Auditor General is empowered and may perform administrative audits in any ministry, and departments or services thereof, any legal person of public law, municipality, local council or other fund or organisation controlled by one, to determine whether they operate and utilise their available resources in prudent, beneficial and effective manner,” the Auditor General’s letter quoted.
Michaelides countered that at no point had he made any determination as to Petrides’ criminal culpability, but merely urged the former minister to bring the case before the Attorney General’s office for him to determine the existence of such culpability, if any, or any further action.
The Auditor General also seemed to take offence at the notion of employing the tactic of leaking correspondence to the press, and said as much in his response.
“Our Service does not ‘leak’ letters – it merely dispatches letters,” he said. “My opinion is that the responsibility for articles published in newspapers lies with reporters and legal owners.”
Michaelides signed off his repudiation by arguing that public personas should offer themselves to public scrutiny.
“You will agree that individuals accepting public office or position should be willing to be examined with regard to the appropriateness and legitimacy of their actions,” he asserted. “Such examination should obviously be conducted in the manner designated by law. It is also my belief that cases involving individuals who have served in political positions should, in favour of transparency, be copied to the House Watchdog committee. That is what we have done in this case.”