By Angelos Anastasou
The economy probe by the state legal services will continue despite the challenges, and will expand into the roles played by former central bank governors and officials, Attorney-general Costas Clerides said on Friday.
Speaking on state radio, Clerides confirmed the first of what he expects will be a series of prosecutions will be initiated on Friday against Bank of Cyprus former officials in connection with the dissemination of misleading or false information to the public with regard to the lender’s capital adequacy.
“It is expected that, as we have been promised, the first cases will be delivered to us on Friday, at which point the evaluation stage will begin,” said Clerides.
“They relate to the Bank of Cyprus – some alleged offences identified and fined by the Cyprus Securities and Exchange Commission, which may also constitute criminal offences.”
He was referring to last June’s announcement by the CySEC of administrative fines totalling €8 million imposed on 23 former officials of Bank of Cyprus – 12 – and now-defunct Laiki Bank – 11 – for misleading investors through public statements.
Former BoC CEO Andreas Eliades, his successor Yiannis Kypri and former board chairman Theodoros Aristodemou were fined €530,000 each, and Laiki’s Andreas Vgenopoulos and Efthimios Bouloutas €705,000 each.
But while the BoC’s top brass is slated for prosecution, the picture on Laiki’s ex-top managers remains rather murky.
Asked to explain why the indictment of former Laiki officials is being delayed, Clerides said going after the big fish requires gathering all available information.
“These individuals [Vgenopoulos and Bouloutas] appear to be key to the investigation,” he said.
“You understand that they will be among the last to be questioned so that all the required material has been gathered, in order for all the necessary questions to be asked.”
But the issue of Laiki Bank, the AG added, is not merely being looked at in isolation.
“We don’t constrain ourselves to Laiki as a banking institution and its officials,” he said.
“We expand the investigation into matters of oversight, especially by the Central Bank and its officials – some of which are still at the CBC. This investigation could go as high up as former governors, and certainly officials at a lower tier.”
Despite meeting President Nicos Anastasiades’ pledge in September that prosecutions would start before year’s end, Clerides faces criticism for his service’s perceived slow pace in concluding investigations.
“Things have always moved forward – it’s just that some would not like to admit this fact, or couldn’t accept it, or were justifiably anxious,” he said. “The fact is that they have been moving forward, in an organised and concerted effort.”
“But while I accept this ‘justifiable anxiety from the public, I cannot accept it from politicians,” he charged. “Because they are fully aware of the procedures that need to be followed, and I have repeatedly explained the challenges we face.”
As if to illustrate his point, on Friday Acting President and EDEK leader Yiannakis Omirou expressed his satisfaction over the prosecutions but publicly demanded that the legal services include Laiki Bank in its investigation.
“We call on legal services to not confine the scope of investigations and prosecutions to the Bank of Cyprus,” he said. “Investigations and prosecutions must also include Laiki Bank, especially during the Vgenopoulos-Bouloutas period, the issue of emergency liquidity assistance, and the sale of Cypriot banks’ Greek branches.”
“Impunity will not be tolerated,” Omirou added.
Omirou was referring to an issue Clerides had addressed in public comments the previous day, when he referred specifically to the investigation into Laiki’s collapse.
“Investigations regarding Laiki are ongoing and span the period from 2005-6, when the lender’s shares were taken over, until its collapse in 2013,” Clerides had said on Thursday.
By Angelos Anastasou