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Cyprus

Supreme Court seeks to temper driving accident uproar

Limassol traffic police chief Michalis Katsounotos

By George Psyllides

THE SUPREME Court said on Monday it could only rule whether three controversial court decisions regarding three Limassol traffic incidents with two fatalities and one serious injury were wrong as part of an appeals process, and warned against drawing conclusions that damaged public trust in the justice system.

In each of the three cases, public prosecutors charged the drivers, but the sentences handed down by the court were extremely lenient. For the two accidents resulting in the victims’ death the accused were fined €3,000, their driving licences were temporarily revoked, and they received five penalty points, while the driver in the third instance was not punished.

The matter became public last week when the state broadcaster got hold of a letter by Limassol traffic police chief Michalis Katsounotos inquiring about the incidents that took place in 2011 and 2012.

In a statement issued on Monday, the Supreme Court said – without specifying – that in one of the cases the prosecution had withdrawn a drink driving charge resulting in a sentence that did not take this into account.

It also said that the judge was the same in all three cases because she was tasked with handling such cases exclusively for two years.

The court also rejected as “untrue” reports that the defence lawyer was also the same in all three cases.

“The Supreme Court and the Supreme Judicial Council are examining, and will continue to monitor the matter, taking into consideration of course a pending appeal in one of the cases,” the statement said.

The court said the right to sincere critique was a given but it was everyone’s responsibility to avoid drawing conclusions without thinking or checking, which harm the public’s trust in the justice system.

Attorney-general Costas Clerides had ordered a probe into the allegations. The officers looking into the affair have received the files and a report should be ready by Wednesday. Clerides had asked for a report by Monday but an extension was given.

In his letter, Katsounotos asked whether the three defendants were tried on the basis of their social standing, as they are considered to be prominent individuals in Limassol.

He claimed that his department was not informed of the rulings as per due process, and noted that public prosecutors failed to appeal the rulings.

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 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 a woman, a third country national, who had been walking on the pavement.

Neophytou faced four charges – manslaughter, driving while intoxicated, reckless driving, and not keeping his hands free while driving.

He was fined €3,000, his driver’s licence was revoked for six months, and was penalised with six penalty points for the first charge, while the rest were withdrawn.

The third case concerned an 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.

 

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