Cyprus Mail

Police confirm protection racket in operation in Nicosia

By Elias Hazou
Police have confirmed the existence of a protection racket in Nicosia after two people were detained on suspicion of shaking down owners of restaurants and bars.
Speaking on the state broadcaster on Tuesday, police spokesman Andreas Angelides said two men are in police custody after a complaint filed against them by a businessman running an establishment in Nicosia.
The two men allegedly threatened the businessman with violence unless he purchased water and energy drinks from their company, which imports beverages. One of the suspects is the owner of the company, the other an employee there.
According to daily Philelefheros, the businessman filing the complaint claimed the two threatened to set fire to his premises and to harm an acquaintance unless he agreed to buy drinks from their company.
The paper said that during a weekend search of the warehouse of the beverages company in question, police found empty plastic containers of de-ionized water.
The discovery has been linked to a series of car arsons in the capital, where empty containers of de-ionized water were filled up with flammable liquid, placed underneath the front wheels of cars and then lit.
Angelides said police are investigating a possible connection in 13 cases of car arson, where the above MO was used. In addition, a pattern emerged where the arsons often followed threats made to restaurant or bar owners.
In the early morning hours of Monday, Nicosia police assisted by MMAD (riot squad) conducted a sweep operation of seven vehicles and 18 persons.
During the course of the operation, officers found a bat and a knuckle-duster in two of the cars searched. Two persons, owners of the cars searched, were placed under arrest.
The operation apparently followed leads that the cars were being driven by persons who were allegedly shaking down owners of restaurants and other premises.
Angelides said that similar sweeps were carried out in Larnaca recently, adding that police are determined to crack down on organised crime.
He said law enforcement must take the lead in cleaning up organised crime, so that the police may earn the public’s trust and people are encouraged to report such blackmail to authorities.
The police’s admission verifies what has been widely whispered among the general public for a while, namely that racketeers have been assuming the guise of legitimacy, using otherwise legit businesses as fronts to squeeze other traders.

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