Cyprus Mail

‘Used by all involved to carry bribe money around’

By Constantinos Psillides

EFTYCHIOS Malekkides, the manager of the Paphos Sewage Board (SAPA) who allegedly received kickbacks to inflate the town’s sewage system project budget, gave a lengthy statement to police investigators regarding his role in the case.

Malekkides was forced into spilling the beans after former Paphos Mayor Savvas Vergas gave his own statement last week, claiming that Malekkides was the brains behind the operation and that he tried to put a stop to it but was blackmailed by the SAPA manager into keeping quiet.

Malekkides on the other hand claims that he was the victim and that he was forced to take part in the bribery ring by Vergas and his predecessor, Fidias Sarikas.

Sarikas, currently an EDEK MP, has rejected Malekkides claims and has already consented to lifting his parliamentary immunity so investigators can freely take his statement. While Sarikas was not specifically named during the court hearing, he is the only one fitting Malekkides description which was what prompted the MP’s reaction.

According to head investigator Eleftherios Kyriakou, Malekkides has already admitted guilt in accusations laid against him regarding Phase 5 of the Paphos sewage project. The manager was suspected of receiving kickbacks from a Greece-based waste management company, so he would secure a contract for a waste-process plant for them.

Malekkides went on to claim that the sewerage construction project was crooked from the very start.

According to Kyriakou’s statement, during Sunday’s remand hearing of Malekkides, Vergas and three former municipal councillors, Efstathios Efstathiou of DIKO, Vasos Vassiliou of AKEL and Giorgos Michaelides of DISY, the SAPA manager claimed that he was approached in 2000 by Sarikas and an unidentified former municipal councillor now deceased. They allegedly informed Malekkides that they knew of a Greek businessman who had ties with a German company that would submit a bid for the project and that he was willing to pay the two of them off so he could secure the contract.

Malekkides at first declined but claimed that in the end he gave in after being pressured by the pair. He said that it was the first time in his career that he accepted a bribe and that he did so because of financial troubles.

He told authorities that the deal was sealed in the house of a Cypriot sub-contractor who was acting on behalf of the Greek businessman. He claimed a 3 per cent commission on the submitted bid was agreed upon.

This was later translated to 400,000 CYP (€680,000) which was part of the bid, amounted up to €7,480,000. The Cypriot sub-contractor, according to Malekkides, told him that the kickback money would come out of the total, since the bid breakdown would be €680,000 less than the bid submitted.

Malekkides told the sub-contractor that that would be illegal and it would result in the contract being cancelled.

The company was awarded the tender in the end and Malekkides told investigators that he travelled to Athens along with Sarikas and the former municipal councillor and that they met with the Greek businessman in a bank, where each was handed €20,000 in cash.

But all did not go as planned since a short while after work started on the project it was halted, due to a disagreement between the sub-contractor and the German company. The SAPA manager said that the sub-contractor lamented that he was losing money on the project and that he wanted the municipality to pay him the money he spent bribing the three of them. Malekkides said that he was willing to back down from the deal and not claim his share of the money –so the project could be completed- but the other two refused to give in.

Iacovos Iacovou CEO of Iacovou Brothers, the company that was awarded the tender for Phase 1, rejected Malekkides claims. In a statement given to the police on Saturday, Iacovou said that the project cost came up to €9 million due to delays and additional work required and that his company was paid the money in 2008. Iacovou claimed that Malekkides was the one who came around looking for kickbacks, threatening the CEO in 2007 that he would delay the payout to the company by five years if he didn’t get any money. The company CEO, according to what the head investigator told the court, finally agreed to a €102,000 bribe which Malekkides received when visiting the company’s headquarter in Larnaca on two separate occasions.

In his statement the SAPA manager went on to say that Phase 2 was no different than Phase 1. Once again bidding contractors approached state officials promising them money for being awarded the contract.

Malekkides claimed that he had a change of heart and wanted to put and end to the corruption cycle but was told that the sum of €200,000 was already agreed upon between members of the municipal council (Efstathiou, Michaelides and Vassiliou are mentioned along with then mayor Savvas Vergas) and the construction companies that were awarded the contract, MEDCON and General Construction Cyprus. Malekkides claimed that the three councillors and the mayor told him that part of the money would go to football clubs and the rest would be divided amongst themselves.

Malekkides said that he insisted the tender process be transparent and that he was “sick and tired of the whole mess.” The SAPA manager said that he was under Vergas’ thumb and that he was used by all involved to carry bribe money around.

In 2009 he said that he met with a representative from MEDCON in a Paphos hotel, accompanied by Efstathios Eftasthiou, where he received the money.

Antonis Toumazis, CEO of ATLAS PANTOU admitted to paying Malekkides the money but claimed that the SAPA manager demanded that money to arrange for his company to be paid for the extra work done on the project, a total of €3.5 million.

The CEO’s of all the construction companies included in the statements of everyone involved in the case have been arrested, had their statements taken and later released. It is understood that they will be called on to testify as prosecution witnesses.

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