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Palace aide handled Georghadji contract ‘for five minutes’

Former Presidential advisor Makarios Droushiotis at the House Ethics committeeyesterday

By Angelos Anastasiou

FORMER presidential advisor Makarios Droushiotis and head of the President’s office Panayiotis Antoniou have assumed political responsibility for the infamous contract signed by Central Bank governor Chrystalla Georghadji after she amended two of its clauses, but the House Ethics committee on Friday remained unconvinced and will resume discussion in its next session.

During yet another session examining the potential risk Georghadji’s relationship with the law firm representing former Laiki Bank strongman Andreas Vgenopoulos – the firm is owned by her estranged husband – Droushiotis said he was involved in the matter in the role of messenger, claiming that he handled the actual contract for “five minutes”. This was due to the pressing timeframes imposed by the need to complete Georghadji’s appointment at the helm of the Central Bank, he said.

He attributed the ensuing “mess” in the operation of the presidential palace to “improvisations” employed in the absence of procedures. This lack of procedures, Droushiotis said, have been identified and protocol at the Presidential Palace has been amended to remedy it.

“As a result, on instructions from Undersecretary to the President Constantinos Petrides, all the sessions on the economy were recorded, transcribed and archived,” he said.

Droushiotis said that his impression of the broader issue is that a conflict of interest exists, but clarified that he is in no way involved with any issue concerning banks.

He said that during his time as presidential advisor – he resigned at the end of November to join Commissioner Christos Stylianides’ team in Brussels – he was mostly assigned duties of researching and preparing memos.

“On April 10, 2014, the ceremony to appoint the new Central Bank governor, the new Auditor General, and various other state officials was scheduled to take place,” he recounted. “Two days earlier, I got a phone call from Mrs Georghadji, who advised me that in order for Odysseas Michaelides to be appointed Auditor-general, she would have to resign her post first, and that in order for her to be appointed governor she would have to sign a contract.”

He explained that there had been prior contact between him and Georghadji, noting that in his understanding she had been asking for someone to see through the logistics, and he acted “more or less as a messenger.”

“I received a file of documents from Mrs Georghadji, with a single note at the top,” he said, but couldn’t deny that the file could have contained additional notes. Georghadji had claimed last week that she had forwarded two notes along with her signed contract – one for each amendment she made.

Droushiotis said he inquired as to who dealt with such issues at the palace, and was informed that an official prepares the contracts and forwards them to the President for his signature, so he sent the file to her.

“As far as I was concerned, I hadn’t received the contract to evaluate it, but to forward it,” he said, adding that Georghadji’s esteem as a public official led him to conclude that there was no need for any further inquiry with regard to the contract. “For better or worse, my only contact with the file lasted all of five minutes,” he said.

Droushiotis said he had had no discussion with anyone with regard to any conflict of interest, Georghadji’s marital status, or any relationship she may have had with the law firm representing Vgenopoulos.

He added that there are no standard procedures in place for staffers, and that problems tend to be resolved by improvisation.

Asked to comment on public statements by DISY leader Averof Neophytou, who charged that President Nicos Anastasiades had been “let down by his associates’ incompetence”, Droushiotis said that in all contact he has had with Neophytou he never felt incompetent.

Panayiotis Antoniou, whose office was responsible for drafting the contract and taking it to the President, said that the contract had been signed by Georghadji on the day of her appointment, and by the Anastasiades at a later date.

He argued that it would be immoral of him to transfer responsibilities to civil servants, noting that anything that makes it onto the President’s desk for his signature is his responsibility.

Antoniou said that after the contract was received he left for a trip, but did not insist on taking over after he was informed Droushiotis had been handling it.

With regard to the issues raised by the contract’s amended clauses, he said that one is an issue of incompatibility that is governed by the provisions of other laws regardless of whether a clause was included in the contract or not, and the other related to the governor’s salary, which does not affect the ongoing probe into the reasons for the collapse of the economy.

“We did not disrupt the country’s operation,” he said, adding that the impression attributed to the Presidential Palace and the civil service saddens him.

He added that, for all their weaknesses, archiving procedures do exist, and noted that the President has issued strict record-keeping instructions.

However, he said informal notes like Georghadji’s may not have been archived.

For her part, Georghadji confirmed Droushiotis’ version of their discussion, and said that since her only revenue was her government salary, she prepared the two notes to the contract so that she could resign prior to her appointment and due process could be followed.

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