By Angelos Anastasiades
Party leaders on Thursday agreed to make an effort to devise rules on when the Attorney-general would be obliged to address the House and parliamentary committees.
The issue came up after Attorney-general Costas Clerides refused to appear before the Ethics committee earlier this week in a session that would discuss the potential conflict of interest arising from the fact that the Central Bank Governor’s daughter legally represents ex-Laiki’s strongman Andreas Vgenopoulos.
Vgenopoulos is currently in a legal dispute with legacy Laiki Bank, run by the Central Bank’s Resolution Authority.
Clerides’ refusal sparked reaction from deputies, who went as far as implying he may be trying to cover up for Governor Chrystalla Georghadji.
Some focused on a public remark he made earlier regarding the case, arguing that in a small and isolated country such as Cyprus, the frequent occurrence of such family relations can be expected.
Deputies took that to imply that nothing can be done when such conflicts of interest arise because Cyprus is a small and isolated country, and jumped at the chance to criticise Clerides on these grounds.
But the AG was quick to go back on the offensive.
“My words were distorted in a misleading way,” he told local daily Phileleftheros. “I had stated the following: ‘Although in a small country such as Cyprus, these kinds of family relations and connections are frequently observed, civil servants, and especially state officials, are expected to perform their duties and exercise their powers fully detached from them, in an independent, objective and fair manner. Legal Services remain vigilant in order to ensure that in any case no actions or omissions that may create suspicion to the contrary are observed.’”
During Thursday’s meeting, EVROKO leader Demetris Syllouris proposed devising a list of circumstances mandating when the AG would be bound to appear before committees in person, and when he would be able to send a representative.
It was decided that the House chair and directors review the issue and submit a memo to the body, laying out the options available by law.
Speaking after the meeting, Syllouris said that the object was for “the House to determine when the AG should be asked to sit in on meeting and when he would be bound to attend, so that this misunderstanding doesn’t recur.”
He explained that, constitutionally, the AG is legal advisor to the government, not the House, but the intention is for the issue to be governed not by anyone’s sole decision but by rules.
Syllouris said that, if it was decided that the AG would attend committee sessions only when bills were being discussed, then the House should consider acquiring its own legal counsel.
Green Party leader Giorgos Perdikis, who was singled out by an irked AG last week after criticising him for declining to appear before the Ethics committee, sponsored the issue and expressed his disappointment as he expected “parties to support the Ethics committee deputies.”
“I expected the parties to assign meaning to the committee’s stance,” he said. “The committee had found the reasons offered by the Attorney-general to be inadequate.”
He said the “issue is being hushed” and “swept under the rug.”
Remarking on the prospect of the House employing its own legal counsel, Perdikis said he has been hearing about it since the day he became a deputy.
“It is not a matter of whose legal counsel the AG is,” he said. “The point is that he told the House he wouldn’t be appearing before the committee that invited him, after he commented on the issue in public.”
He explained that the issue was not a legal one, and that in this case the AG was not called to offer legal counsel but to position himself on a serious issue that related to the issue of investigations into the criminal liability for the economic crisis.
“Does the Attorney General believe that it is more important to offer a public opinion than to address the deputies that invited him because they would be discussing an issue that also has a legal angle to it?” Perdikis wondered.