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Our View: Attorney-General in a tight spot over ethical dilemma

Attorney-General Costas Clerides

DEPUTIES felt snubbed by the Attorney-General, Kostas Clerides, after he decided not to attend a meeting of the House ethics committee that was discussing an issue of conflict of interest, involving the Governor of the Central Bank, Chrystalla Georghadji. Clerides had sent the committee a letter in which he said that the issue “does not fall within the remit of the attorney-general nor did it necessitate the attorney-general to express an opinion or intervene in any way.”

It is difficult to disagree with Clerides because the issue is ethical rather than legal and it is not his job to make pronouncements on ethical issues. Then again, why had he issued a statement about the matter when it was first raised, last month, by Kathimerini newspaper, which claimed it had uncovered a blatant case of conflict of interest? Was it within his remit to issue a statement back then, saying that “it was expected that state officials would exercise their duties and powers, fully detached from such elements, in an independent, objective and fair way”?

It was not, but he did it anyway because he had been put under pressure by the newspaper and wanted to offer the governor some backing. The paper had reported that Georghadji’s daughter was working at her father’s law office (Mr and Mrs Georghdji have been separated for some time) which was representing Andreas Vgenopoulos, the former Laiki strongman, in a law-suit filed against him by the administrator of Laiki. The administrator of the bank is answerable to the Governor.

There is no doubt that there is a conflict of interest, but the worst of all was that Geroghadji was aware there may have been a problem, which was why she changed the provisions of her contract before taking the post of governor. The original contract included a provision barring blood relatives of the governor from being involved in any business or profession that had any connection or dealing with the Central Bank. Georghadji asked for this provision to be removed from her contract and the Attorney-General’s office obliged.

In this way, Georghadji was not violating her contract if her daughter carried on representing Vgenopoulos in his legal battle with the Laiki administrator and the Attorney-General had no business getting involved in the matter. And when the Laiki administrator was recently replaced by the Central Bank – the governor’s family ties may have had nothing to do with the decision – questions were bound to be raised, because of the position Georghadji has put herself in.

The facts of the case conclusively documented the conflict of interest. Did the deputies, who feel duty-bound to take moral stands on the most trivial issues, really need the Attorney-General’s advice to decide whether Georghadji is in the wrong?

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