By Angelos Anastasiou
Embattled Paphos Mayor Savvas Vergas announced on Monday he would not be resigning, despite a unanimous call for his voluntary exit by political parties, citing his right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
In a packed conference room at the Alexander the Great hotel in Paphos, Vergas announced his intention to remain at his post, but declined to take questions as he did not wish to comment on issues currently under police investigation.
In a statement, Vergas said he suspended his participation from municipal bodies until the police investigation is concluded, claiming he did so “voluntarily, in order to help defuse the tense atmosphere” – though his ostensibly self-decided suspension followed a stern letter containing a direct urging to this end by Interior minister Socratis Hasikos.
“Many people ask me every day why I won’t break my silence and offer public statements,” the Paphos mayor said.
“I have a lot to say on all the issues some have tried, and still do, to implicate me in,” he warned.
“But I must respect the ongoing police investigation and legal proceedings, which do not allow me to offer public statements at this time.”
“Savvas Vergas will position himself on all issues once investigation and all pending proceedings have been concluded,” he said, referring to himself in the third person.
His much-anticipated news conference, which he announced last Thursday, had prompted much speculation as to his intentions to make damning revelations against members of the Paphos municipal council, many of whom were instrumental in his ongoing legal tangles, but yielded much less than expected.
Many were also sceptical of the post-dated news conference, which seemed to allow time for behind-the-scenes deliberations with any who may have been nervous at the prospect of Vergas speaking.
In what seemed like a barrage of political attacks, parties called one after the other for his immediate resignation last week, a fact he addressed in his statement.
“The big question is what all this haste and insistence on my resignation, before investigation is concluded and justice served,” Vergas wondered.
His statement included a strange assertion, by which Vergas appeared to be painting himself into a corner in case he is forced to resign in the future
“My resignation, solely on the strength of my alleged involvement in illegal acts, would equal a direct admission of guilt.”
His decision, Vergas said, was to remain voluntarily suspended of his duties until all issues have been concluded.
“I will do so being fully aware of the Municipalities Law, which allows for such suspension without impacting the Municipality’s operation,” said Vergas.
Vergas has found himself increasingly in the limelight – and under fire – recently, after his role in two cases heading for the courts was revealed.
The first related to a suspected land-demarcation fraud case in Paphos, in which property developer giant Aristo appeared to have switched the original architectural plans authorised by the Land Registry with others ceding some of the green area and road network back to Aristo for commercial use, and forging the Land Registry seal onto the doctored plans.
Threatening text messages relating to the Aristo case sent to municipal councilmen, a journalist, and Vergas himself, were subsequently found to have been sent from a mobile phone belonging to Vergas’ “close associate” and Paphos municipal employee Maria Solomonidou.
It later emerged that the device was bought by Vergas and given to Solomonidou, and that the two were in the same area when the messages were sent, raising suspicions of conspiring to throw authorities off Vergas’ track.
A second case relating to a concert featuring Greek pop star Sakis Rouvas organised last summer is also under police scrutiny, involving Vergas, Solomonidou, and her husband, Constantinos Sifantos.
While the concert was organised by a private event-planning firm belonging to Sifantos, the contract with Rouvas’ agent appeared to have been signed by Vergas.
And, although advertised as a charity event with proceeds going to Paphos’ soup kitchens, no money from the event has found its way to any charity organisation yet, police investigators have said.
The auditor general is also looking into the possibility that Vergas illegally used public land earmarked as a green space to create his own private tennis court adjacent to his home.