By Angelos Anastasiou
THREE court cases involving individual instances of negligent driving, which left two women dead and an underage girl paralysed, appear to have been tried with suspicious lenience due to the defendants’ social standing, state TV reported on Thursday.
According to the CyBC, head of Limassol traffic police Michalis Katsounotos has sent a letter to chief of police Zacharias Chrysostomou inquiring about the three cases, which involve accidents that took place in 2011 and 2012.
In each case, public prosecutors charged the drivers but the sentences handed down by the court were suspiciously merciful – for the two accidents resulting in the victims’ death the accused were fined with €3,000 and their driving licences were temporarily revoked, and they received five penalty points, while the driver in the third instance was not punished.
Katsounotos’ letter noted that all three cases were tried by the same judge, and two defendants used the same lawyer, raising the question of whether there might have been foul play.
According to the rulings, in each case the court accepted the fact that victims’ families had been paid substantial sums from insurance companies as a mitigating factor.
As well, the letter poses the question of whether the three defendants were tried on the basis of their social standing, as they are considered to be well-known individuals in Limassol.
The Limassol traffic chief claimed that his department was not informed of the rulings as per due process, and noted that public prosecutors failed to appeal the rulings.
Sources have confirmed that the first case involved former Commerce Minister from 1988 to 1993 Takis Nemitsas, who in 2012 had run over an underage Russian girl after running a red light, leaving the girl paralysed.
Nemitsas, who was represented in court by Andreas Charalambous, pleaded guilty to the charges, but District Court judge Toula Papapetrou did not impose a sentence.
The second case related to a fatal accident, in which 28-year-old lawyer Oliver Anastasis Neophytou, who had been driving under the influence of alcohol, drove into an immigrant woman who had been walking on the pavement.
Neophytou, also represented by Charalambous in court, faced four charges – manslaughter, driving while intoxicated, reckless driving, and not keeping his hands free while driving.
He was fined €3,000, suffered a six-month revocation of his driving licence, and was penalised with six penalty points for the first charge, while the rest were mysteriously withdrawn.
The third case concerned a fatal accident in which an elderly woman was killed.
Insurance agent Phedonas Michael was fined €3,000, had his licence revoked for one year and was penalised with five penalty points.
The leaked letter caused the furious reaction of deputy Attorney General Rikkos Erotokritou, as he considered that fingers were being unjustly pointed at the state’s Legal Services.
“Do not include the Legal Services in your questions,” he abruptly told the state radio’s anchor yesterday morning, after she asked whether the service had been at fault. “You are wrong.”
Erotokritou added that public prosecutors are not technically part of the state’s Legal Services, falling under the police’s organisational chart instead.
“However, as part of their work in the courtroom they have a duty to inform us,” he said.
The deputy AG said neither he nor his boss had been aware of the letter’s contents, until they encountered the story in the media.
“When we get the letter, Legal Services will offer its position and will ask for the prosecutors’ views in writing,” he said.
“We can’t wake up to news stories that the Legal Services are being accused by the Limassol traffic chief, when he failed to contact us in advance, as he should have,” Erotokritou said.
Katsounotos declined comment to the Cyprus Mail and referred all questions to police spokesman Andreas Angelides.
Speaking on state TV yesterday, Angelides rejected Erotokritou’s claim that public prosecutors are part of the police’s remit.
“Public prosecutors are accountable to the Legal Services,” he said. “They are public prosecutors, they don’t investigate anything.”
However, he did concede that the Legal Services had not yet been informed of the issue as the letter was leaked before it officially got to its intended recipient.
“Very recently, we had noted some traffic cases that were tried, and due to the sentences that were handed down, Limassol traffic police prepared a letter that was supposed to accompany the trial files to the Legal Services,” he said. “But of course, the issue was made public before the letter and the files were delivered.”
Yesterday afternoon, the AG’s office issued a statement by which it demanded a written report of the facts by noon Monday.
“Concerning the news report in relation to an allegedly poor execution, or deliberate violation, of duty by public prosecutors in the handling of three fatal criminal traffic cases before the Limassol District Court, the Attorney General has instructed the head of the Public Prosecutors’ office to prepare a full report of the facts and present it to the Attorney General’s office by noon on Monday, October 6,” Attorney General Kostas Clerides announced.
“Once the above-mentioned fact report has been received and studied, any further measures warranted will be determined,” he added.