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Cyprus

We’re innocent say deputies, three more arrested (Update 3)

By Angelos Anastasiou

THREE  more arrest warrants were issued on Saturday in connection with the Paphos Sewerage Board (PSB) case, as EDEK deputy Fidias Sarikas and AKEL deputy Andreas Fakontis denied being implicated in the affair.

The two politicians had been named by former Paphos mayor Savvas Vergas’ on Friday when he was re-remanded for eight days along with PSB director Eftihios Malekkides and former DISY Paphos municipality councilman Yiorgos Michaelides.

Police spokesman Andreas Angelides announced that more arrests were “imminent” on Saturday, shortly before three warrants were issued for the arrest of AKEL councilman Yiorgos Shailis, CEO of Nemesis Construction Kyriacos Chrisochos, and technical director at Medcon Construction Andreas Chimarrides.

Vergas’ testimony came a day after another suspect, the Greek owner of construction company Envitec Christos Drakopoulos, arrived in Cyprus and testified that the former Paphos mayor had pressured him into donating some €85,000 to the Paphos municipality out of the money he received from securing a PSB contract. Drakopoulos complied but later found out that the ‘donation’ was paid into the bank account of Vergas’ wife, Sofia Apostolidou, who was also arrested and questioned on Friday.

According to state radio, Drakopoulos’ testimony prompted Vergas to abandon his pleas of innocence and admit to bribery in his testimony on Friday, in which he implicated other public figures into the corruption scandal.

Following the accusations, the two Paphos parliamentarians vehemently declared their innocence and attacked both Vergas for trying to incriminate them and police investigators for leaking his unsubstantiated claims.

In a statement on Saturday, Sarikas – Vergas’ predecessor at the helm of both the Paphos municipality and the PSB from 1997 to 2006 – said he was unaware of the details of Vergas’ claims against him, but cited his record in the local Paphos community as evidence of his innocence.

“For the last few hours, following leaked extracts from Vergas’ testimony, my name and my dignity are being dragged through the mud,” Sarikas said.

“I don’t know, nor can I imagine what [Vergas] attributes to me, very simply because I have never followed his corrupt ways. Paphos citizens are well aware of who each of us is. My bank accounts and assets are at the authorities’ disposal.”

In the same vein, Fakontis – Paphos municipality councilman and PSB board member from 1996 to 2006 – denied Vergas’ allegations and argued that individuals shouldn’t be left to fall victim to unsubstantiated claims.

In a statement, Fakontis claimed Vergas lied in order to get back at him for exposing his corruption.

“These claims are clearly slanders, regardless of who is making them,” Fakontis said.

“If it is true that Vergas made them, then it was done vindictively, because I am the one who led, reported and brought to light the PSB scandal. As AKEL’s deputy in 2012, I tabled the issue at the House watchdog committee and furnished specific evidence and figures pointing towards mismanagement and misappropriation of public funds at the PSB.

“In the interest of restoring the truth and my name I state that I am ready and willing to offer the police and investigators full access to my bank accounts and assets, overriding any legal obstacles that parliamentary immunity may pose.”

House president and EDEK leader Yiannakis Omirou said his party’s stance towards corruption is one of zero tolerance, but that the party would offer further views if investigators “move ahead”.

“Our municipal councilmen, former and current, as well as our deputies, stand ready to voluntarily disclose their bank accounts and assets to the authorities,” he said.

“If investigators move ahead, we will position ourselves further,” he added.

DIKO leader Nicolas Papadopoulos said the revelations of scandals in Paphos have “injured and hurt” the city, and that DIKO will work towards addressing the issues.

“Paphos has made great contributions to Cyprus’ economy and society, and it is not fair for its image to be tarnished like this,” he said.

“It is everyone’s duty to contribute to efforts of restoring and purging the municipality, and DIKO will continue its contacts with a view to addressing problems and healing the wounds.”

But Vergas’ testimony, deemed “one of the most important items of evidence in the case thus far” by police spokesman Andreas Angelides, is being evaluated and could lead to further arrests, “either within the day or in the coming days” he said on Saturday”

Speaking at the Limassol Police headquarters, Angelides said the testimony was the object of a session convened on Saturday morning by the Deputy Attorney-general Rikkos Erotokritou, attended by the deputy police chief, the deputy CID chief and the lead investigator.

“A review of the statement and the body of evidence collected thus far and decisions for further action within the day and in the coming days have been made,” said Angelides.

“Anyone’s implication, or suspected implication, will be investigated, and no one will be spared,” he added.

Angelides clarified that the figures made public on Friday in connection with investigations into Vergas and Malekkides’ bank accounts relate to movement in and out of the accounts and not deposits.

“The figures reported related to the movement of €4.5 million for the former mayor, and €1.9 million for the PSB director,” he said.

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