By Constantinos Psillides
THE Larnaca Criminal Court issued a final verdict on the Dromolaxia scandal on Monday, jailing all five guilty parties on various charges of corruption and fraud and handing down sentences ranging from three and a half to nine years.
The court sentenced ex-CyTA boss Stathis Kittis to eight years in prison, former EAC boss and former CyTA board member Charalambos Tsouris to three years, trade union representative and Cytavision director Orestis Vasiliou to nine years, land registry official Gregoris Souroullas to six and a half years, and high ranking AKEL member Venizelos Zanettos to three and a half years.
Zanettos was convicted of extortion, with main opposition party AKEL claiming that he was innocent and that his only implication in the case was that he forced main prosecution witness, businessman Nicos Lillis, to pay off the debt of Alki Larnaca football club. At the time when the crime was committed Lillis was chairman of the football club.
It revolved around the purchase by CyTA’s pension fund of office space in Dromolaxia, near Larnaca airport, at a price several times the going market value. The land was initially sold to a company by the name of Wadnic Trading, which upgraded the coefficients, built on it and sold it on to the CyTA pension fund for some €20 million.
The court also fined the legal entity Polleson Holdings €300,000.
Judge Nicolaos Sandis who presided over the case said that Kittis acted in a “well calculated and methodical manner, in order to cover his tracks regarding his implication in the crime in question.” The court pointed out that Kittis’ intention from the start was indicative “of his intention to perpetrate a crime”.
“From the very start, the defendant operated in the dark and was always mindful of not leaving any evidence that could lead authorities back to him and link him to the crime. He was the one who initiated contact with Lillis […] the defendant showed absolutely no hesitation in distributing a forged document to mislead investigators. His exclusive motive was monetary gain,” read the court’s decision.
The court also dismissed the notion that Lillis was the brains behind the operation. Defence lawyers argued that Lillis was undeniably as guilty of the crime as all the others thus he should not be appointed as a prosecution witness but instead stand trial alongside them. The court pointed out that Lillis couldn’t possibly be the man pulling the strings, since the crime could not have been committed if the rest of the defendants –who held posts in CyTA- didn’t fully cooperate with him.
The judge pointed out that based on the testimonies heard in court, Vasiliou and Kittis were the ones who approached Lillis with the deal and that the businessman “didn’t lure anyone into committing a crime.” The court pointed out that while Lillis acted as a “cold-blooded businessman whose only concern was to get money”, he would not be able to commit the crime if the appointed officials and state workers didn’t agree to it.
The judge maintains that it was Vasiliou, Kittis and Tsouris who extorted Lillis after he agreed to the crime, using their authority over the unions to force the businessman to follow through with the plan.
When it came to Zannetos, the judge agreed that since the defendant didn’t pursue monetary gain for him or his family, it should count as a mitigating factor. “But, since the defendant was not accused of extorting money for himself, this does not change the fact that Zanettos did threaten Lillis, demanding that he pay off the debt of Alki football club. The court’s decision cites an excerpt from the trial, where it is said that once all the papers were signed on the deal, Lillis received a phone call from Zanettos asking him to come to AKEL’s headquarters for a meeting as soon as possible. Lillis obliged and on November 2011 had a meeting with the AKEL member and two other witnesses. During the meeting,
Zanettos appears to have asked Lillis to pay off the football club’s debt. The court notes that Lillis was surprised, since he had agreed to track down previous chairmen who racked up the debt and force them to pay up. Lillis, according to the court’s citation, was then supposed to cover up any difference in regular installements. Zanettos was furious with Lillis’ response, pointing out that the deal could go sour at any time and that the businessman would run the risk of not receiving any more money on his investment.
The trial began in March 2014.
Kittis was found guilty on 16 out of 19 counts, including corruption of a public official, accepting bribes and legalising ill-gotten gains. The court said Kittis conspired to inflate the real cost of the Dromolaxia project, for which he took kickbacks totalling €300,000.
He also forged documents in a bid to give the veneer of legitimacy to a commercial agreement between Wadnic Trading and another company by the name of Leagros Investment Ltd, which would justify him receiving a €100,000 cheque from businessman Nicos Lillis, a key player in the whole deal.
Tsouris is liable for going along with the addition of 400 square metres to the Dromolaxia project, known as the Aero Centre. The added surface area unnecessarily raised the project’s cost. He was also liable for drafting a report – which he submitted to the pension fund’s management committee – containing false data to that effect. He was found guilty of fraud, abuse of a public official’s fiduciary duties and obtaining moneys under false pretences.
Vasiliou took €450,000 in bribes as a sweetener to refrain from inciting opposition to the investment from CyTA unions.
Souroullas received €250,000 from Polleson Holdings Ltd and from Vasiliou despite knowing that these were ill-gotten gains. Polleson
Holdings, of which Souroullas was a member, was found guilty on the charge of money laundering.
The money collected from the fine to Polleson Holdings will be added to those already demanded by the state. The court has already approved the seizure of assets belonging to Kittis, Vasiliou and Souroullas. The state demanded €200,000 from Vasiliou and €250,000 from Souroullas and Kittis. The state has already received the money from Kittis.
The court acquitted the two other defendants in the case, jewellery shop owner Antonis Ioakim and former CyTA marketing manager Yiannis Souroullas.
The judge dismissed any requests of suspended sentence due to some of the defendants’ age, ordering instead that their imprisonment be effective immediately.
The court also dismissed the fact that all defendants were ridiculed in the press as a mitigating factor, pointing out that it could not considered as punishment.