By Constantinos Psillides
SIX people, including former Paphos Mayor Savvas Vergas will go to trial on January 8 facing a total 154 charges, including conspiracy to commit a felony, conspiracy to defraud, bribing a state official, extortion, abusing authority, corruption and acquiring property by illegal means in the Sewerage Board scandal.
Vergas, Paphos Sewerage Board (SAPA) chief Eftychios Malekkides, and former municipal councillors from DISY, AKEL and DIKO – Giorgos Michaelides, Vasos Vasileiou and Efstathios Efstathiou respectively, were each released on €200,000 bail. They were also required to hand over their travel documents and must sign in every day at their local police station.
The court also referred for trial current AKEL municipal councillor Giorgos Siailis, who was implicated in the case by Malekkides. Siailis – who is facing lesser charges, was bailed for €50,000.
All of the suspects allegedly took part in a corruption ring centered around the sewerage construction project.
According to police reports, contractors interested in the project were routinely asked for kickbacks so they could secure contracts, while the SAPA officials kept adding to the cost of the project so that the contractors could get more work. The project, which was originally budgeted at around €80 million, ended up costing around a €120 million.
Taking the suspects to court to be charged is the culmination of a three-month-long investigation by both the police and legal services.
Vergas and Malekkides both gave voluntary statements to police investigators, admitting guilt on some of the charges and blaming each other. According to Malekkides’ statement, he first started receiving kickbacks from contractors back in 2000.
CEOs of major construction companies based in Cyprus came out during the course of the investigation and admitted to giving money to both Vergas and Malekkides. They are expected to be included in the prosecution’s witness list.
Meanwhile investigators were continuing their probe on the project’s other phases, mainly focusing on phase one. Malekkides claimed in his statement that former mayor and currently MP with EDEK Fidias Sarikas was among those who received bribes, along with other municipal councillors. The Supreme Court will convene on January 8 to rule on a demand by the legal services to lift Sarikas’ parliamentary immunity so he can be called in for questioning. It should be noted that the EDEK MP dismissed Malekkides allegations and offered to have his immunity lifted.
The project’s fourth phase is also under the microscope, since Greek businessman Christos Drakopoulos has already admitted to giving Malekkides money so he could secure a waste management plant construction contract.
The SAPA scandal is not the only weight on Savvas Vergas’ shoulders. The former mayor will soon have to appear before court on a number of other cases.
He is also suspected of a shady land deal with land development company Aristo Developers where he allegedly gave permission so the company could illegally take green space and use it for building, sending threats via text message to a municipal councillor, a reporter and a municipality employee, building a tennis court adjacent to his home on public property without permission and green-lighting a tax exemption for a concert organiser who had promised to give all proceedings to charity but failed to do so.
Meanwhile, Yeroskipou municipality along with seven communities are demanding €5 million back from the town’s Sewerage Board, claiming that the contractors did a lousy job in constructing the system.
Yeroskipou mayor Michalis Pavlides – who also serves as the deputy head of the Sewerage Board – told CyBC radio last week that his municipality would be joining with seven more communities that feel they have been cheated by the “shoddy” work delivered by contractors.
“Some people knew and they turned a blind eye to what was going on,” Pavlides told CyBC, claiming that the roads in Yeroskipou were a shambles due to the sewerage construction work. The Yeroskipou mayor said that the money would be spent towards repaving the roads.
He added that his municipality would hire an independent firm to run stress tests on the roads delivered by the contractors, in order to prove that they didn’t adhere to the specifications laid out in their contracts.
By Constantinos Psillides