By Constantinos Psillides
Paphos Mayor Savvas Vergas tried to throw police off track in the Aristo land scandal case by feigning victimhood when SMS death threats were sent to him and three other people, the court heard on Thursday.
The Paphos district court ordered that Vergas be remanded in custody for four days in connection with the threatening text messages sent to witnesses in the suspicious land zoning case involving prominent developer Theodoros Aristodemou.
Following a hearing lasting seven hours, the court decided that the police request for an eight-day remand was excessive and ordered the embattled mayor to be held in custody for four days instead.
The mayor faces charges of conspiring to commit a felony, conspiring to commit a misdemeanour, sending written death threats, interfering with a court procedure and sending harmful texts.
The court said there was a ‘plausible link’ between Vergas and the charges levelled against him.
Police had detained his close associate, 33-year-old Maria Solomonidou, and her father, 64, in connection with the messages. They since have been released.
It transpired during investigations that Vergas had bought the mobile phone used to send the messages.
After taking a closer look at phone records, authorities determined that Solomonidou and Vergas were at the same location when the messages were sent. Both phones received signals from the same cell tower, a fact indicating that they were within a 60-metre radius of one another at the time, according to a report sent from a UK unit specialising in analysing telephone data.
The facts contradicted Vergas’ statement to investigators last week, where he claimed that he was in the municipality when he received the threatening text.
On Thursday, the police investigator in the case argued before the court that it was highly unlikely that Solomonidou’s family would threaten the mayor as he was a close family friend. He added that the same went for Aristo Developers, since –according to the investigator – Vergas had tried to act on the company’s behalf on a number of occasions.
The investigator concluded that the only reasonable explanation was that Vergas tried to throw the investigation off by pretending to also be a victim of the death threats.
The court also heard that immediately after the four threatening texts were sent, Solomonidou’s SIM card was used on the same phone for a three-second conversation with Vergas.
The investigator also asked for permission to open up Vergas’ bank and land registry records to determine whether the Paphos mayor profited from any dealing with Aristo Developers.
Text messages with death threats were also sent to two witnesses in the Aristo case, and to daily Politis’ Paphos correspondent, Costas Nanos.
When questioned by police investigators last week, the mayor claimed he bought the phone for Solomonidou who is responsible, among other things, for handling the municipality’s social media accounts. A quick check of the municipality’s social media pages showed that only one post was made after the phone was bought – on Facebook – while the Twitter account has been inactive since last November.
Vergas’ defence lawyer argued that the whole case was orchestrated to discredit his client and harm his political career. He also called the police investigator’s arguments “vague and unsubstantiated.”
Vergas’ career in politics has already suffered a serious blow. His own party, DIKO, is turning its back on him. In a statement issued on Thursday morning DIKO announced they were suspending Vergas from the party’s central committee, pending the conclusion of the investigation.
This was DIKO’s first statement since the story broke last week. Vergas is a staunch ally of DIKO leader Nicolas Papadopoulos. The Paphos district played a decisive role in the party’s leadership elections last December, when Papadopoulos secured a narrow victory over Marios Garoyian, winning a decent margin over his rival in Paphos.
Police spokesman Andreas Angelides, speaking to the press on Thursday, said that investigators were close to wrapping the case up, adding that police may re-arrest Solomonidou. “Our position on the subject is that the investigation should be conducted thoroughly and once that is done we will refer to the legal services and receive instructions as to who we should arrest and prosecute,” said Angelides, adding that some individuals that were arrested and released might find themselves behind bars again.
Asked why investigators only searched Vergas office and home a week after the events transpired, Angelides explained that the police first go through an evaluation process, assess the evidence gathered and then file for a warrant. “I have been informed by investigators that they found nothing incriminating,” he said.
Asked whether they suspected that evidence was destroyed, the police spokesman replied that he knew nothing of the sort. “We will of course look into that possibility in our investigations. Our goal is to conclude this investigation as soon as possible.”
Besides the threatening texts, Solomonidou is also a key witness in the Aristo case.
Solomonidou is the sister of Aristo Developers designer Christos Solomonides who was arrested along with his boss Theodoros Aristodemou, the latter’s wife Roulla, and former municipal engineer Savvas Savva, in connection with forgery and fraud in the demarcation of 177 plots of land on behalf of the company.
It emerged that the plans for which the demarcation permits were issued were switched with new plans, which seemed to cede approximately 3,000 square metres, worth hundreds of thousands of euros, previously designated as green space, back to Aristo. Investigation in the Aristo case is also ongoing.
Police are additionally looking at a third case involving Solomonidou, after a municipality councillor claimed that an events company linked with her got a tax break from the local authority on condition of making a donation to charity but had failed to do so.
Vasos Demetriou reported to the auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides that the local authority had waived the entertainment for a concert given by Greek singer Sakis Rouvas on August 8.
The condition was that the company would donate part of the net proceeds to the municipal food bank. The decision was taken by the council.
Demetriou said no money had been donated to the food bank, “not one cent” and no explanation had been given.
He also revealed that the events company was controlled by Solomonidou’s husband.
Asked whether an investigator would be sent to Greece to interview artists that performed in concerts under the auspices of the Paphos municipality, Angelides said that investigations were ongoing on all fronts.
“This investigation is being conducted by Paphos police. They would first have to speak to the people that reported the case and assess the case load in a preliminary report. If they conclude that there was a possibility of wrongdoing then they would expand their investigation.”
Archbishop Chrysostomos also weighed in on the case, saying that justice should be strict and that the time of “feasting should come to an end.”
“People who hold public office should be honest. Their post exists for contributing to the common good and not to satisfy their own personal ambitions,” said the Archbishop, urging authorities to also look into the case of the town’s sewage system.
Following the storm of reports on the happenings at the Paphos municipality, claims surfaced saying that the construction of the town’s sewage system cost €109 million instead of the estimated €78 million and that the contractors had demanded an additional €35 million.
Police investigators are also looking into this case.