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Cyprus

Vergas’ tennis court firmly on Auditor General’s radar

Former Paphos mayor Savvas Vergas (Photo: Christos Theodorides)

By Constantinos Psillides

The office of the Attorney General is launching an official investigation in the case of a tennis court built adjacent to Paphos mayor Savvas Vergas home, in violation of proper procedure.

A report submitted by Auditor General Odysseas Michaelides, who was investigating the matter for the past month, concluded that the mayor “appears to have abused authority and violated town-planning legislation.” The space where the tennis court was built was initially planned to be a public square and green space.

The Auditor General noted that the initial building plans submitted were altered, “without filing for a permit and in violation of the relevant legislation.” Vergas also apparently chaired the Paphos council board meeting that green-lighted the building plan change, instead of stating conflict of interest and excusing himself from the process.

According to the report, in September 2007, an application for a square and green space on six plots of land adjacent to the mayor’s home was filed at the Paphos Land Registry. In the application, the municipality said that the area would be turned into a park with a public square, green space, outdoor lighting and benches.

The issuing of the building permit was followed by a meeting of the Paphos municipal council that approved of a change in the building plans, allowing the mayor to build a tennis court. While built on public property, the tennis court is essentially private since the only way for someone to access it is through the mayor’s front door according to Michaelides.

Councilor Fedonas Fedonos told CyBC radio that the office of the Attorney General should launch a criminal investigation to determine whether the mayor abused his authority.

It’s not the first time Vergas has found himself entangled in a case where building permits were altered after being filed so that green space could be used for other purposes. In the high-profile case of land company Aristo Developers, 177 plots of land were set for demarcation but later emerged that the permits filed included altered plans, which seemed to cede approximately 3,000 square metres, worth hundreds of thousands of euros, previously designated as green space, back to Aristo.

The Aristo Developers case triggered an avalanche of investigations including one relating to threatening text messages. Vergas has been charged in writing in connection with a threatening text sent to witnesses in the Aristo case and is now facing charges relating to conspiracy to commit felony, issuing threats, and interference in judicial proceedings.

Vergas was arrested earlier in October in connection with the text messages sent to four people, including himself.

Two of the recipients were witnesses the land zoning case involving Aristo Developers boss Theodoros Aristodemou. Threatening texts were also sent to a journalist.

The other three suspects were Vergas’ close associate Maria Solomonidou, who owned the phone used to send the messages, her husband Constantinos Sifantos, and her father Elias Solomonides.

It later transpired that Vergas had bought the mobile phone used to send the messages, a fact he did not deny.

Solomonidou is the sister of Aristo Developers designer Christos Solomonides, arrested along with his boss, the latter’s wife Roulla Aristodemou, and former municipal engineer Savvas Savva.

 

While the Aristo Developers investigation was unfolding, Vergas also found himself the suspect in another case. Solomonidou’s husband –who is the owner of an event planning company- got a tax exemption for the concert of a Greek pop artist in Paphos in August, allegedly at the request of the mayor. A member of the Paphos municipality council told police that they agreed to the exemption on condition the company gave the proceedings to the municipality’s food bank, which never happened.

Additionally, Vergas is also under a question mark for his role in a Paphos sewerage board investigation. The Auditor General is looking into a possible mismanagement of government funds, following complaints of irregularities in construction contracts awarded by the board, which ended up running excesses of millions of euros – authorised by the board.


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