By Angelos Anastasiou
THE communications ministry yesterday attempted to defuse a row over the clamping of illegally-parked cars at airports by operator Hermes, which the Attorney-general (AG) Costas Clerides said was illegal.
In a written statement yesterday, the ministry said that “under no circumstances” was there a conflict with the AG “whose opinion on the matter is fully respected”.
“The ministry also apologises for the fact that its response to the question raised by the Chairman of the House communications committee mistakenly did not include the Attorney-general’s opinion on this matter,” said the ministry.
This development could mean that Hermes will be required to discontinue the practice of clamping or towing illegally parked cars, leaving it with the option of notifying police in future cases of parking violations, but company spokesmen declined comment as the company had made no decisions as of yet.
On Wednesday, Clerides had criticised Communications Minister Marios Demetriades for his affirmative response to a question on the right of Hermes Airports to clamp or tow illegally parked cars in Larnaca and Paphos airports.
In response to a question raised by DIKO deputy and chairman of House communications committee Antonis Antoniou, whether Hermes may clamp or tow and then charge a release fee of €85 – a practice it has routinely employed, the minister said: that in instances where private vehicles fail to observe traffic laws, thereby hindering either the operation or the security of the airport, or even infringing on the rights of other passengers, as with parking spaces reserved for the handicapped, the ministry’s view was that Hermes has the right to intervene.
However, last July, Clerides had issued a legal opinion – requested by the chief of police and copied to the justice ministry, as well as a communications ministry official – arguing exactly the opposite, namely that the law bestows the police with sole power to issue tickets for traffic violations and clamp or tow cars.
According to the opinion, Hermes has no grounds in law to back its actions.
“The company is neither entitled to immobilise private vehicles, nor issue traffic tickets,” Clerides had argued. “These fall under the state’s power.”
Clerides had also pointed out that the 2006 concession agreement with the Hermes consortium included no such provision. The AG’s recommendation was that if such illegalities were observed, police should be alerted to impose appropriate fines.
In a letter to Demetriades on Wednesday, Clerides employed little diplomacy.
“I am sorry to note that irrespective of the error of your view, it is a fact that on July 25, 2014, the legal services, following a request by the chief of police, issued an opinion expressing a contrary view,” the AG told Demetriades. “Given that the opinion was also forwarded to the manager of the concession agreement at your ministry… I am sorry to note that your response to the parliament was both untimely and incorrect.”