By Elias Hazou
EDEK MP and former Paphos mayor Fidias Sarikas appeared to change tack yesterday when he opposed a motion by the Attorney-general to have his immunity lifted so that he could be questioned in connection to the Paphos sewerage corruption case – despite having earlier offered to be investigated.
During a hearing before the Supreme Court, Sarikas’ lawyers challenged a request filed by the Attorney-general’s office for lifting the MP’s immunity.
The top court allowed the Attorney-general time to submit additional evidence arguing for lifting the MP’s immunity as well as time to Sarikas’ lawyers to file an objection to the motion.
The Supreme Court will hear the objection on February 2.
Chris Triantafyllides, one of Sarikas’ defence team, later told reporters that the evidence presented to the court was insufficient to warrant lifting the immunity.
Moreover, Triantafyllides said, his client does not feel there is anything on which he ought to give explanations. Should something come up at a later date, then Sarikas would review his position, the lawyer said.
However, in an apparent non-sequitur and a logic which only lawyers can grasp, Triantafyllides said Sarikas was in principle not against relinquishing his parliamentary immunity.
Even if Sarikas had not objected at this time, it would be up to the court and the court alone to decide whether to lift his immunity, Triantafyllides noted.
“Mr. Sarikas has a duty to safeguard institutions,” the lawyer offered, evidently alluding to the immunity from prosecution enjoyed by MPs.
“Immunity is a privilege, which no one has the right to disavow. Only the Supreme Court may determine that the lifting of immunity and loss of this privilege is justified,” said Triantafyllides.
Sarikas’ move seemed to take the Attorney-general’s office by surprise. Speaking to journalists, Attorney-general Costas Clerides said they had no indication prior to the court hearing that Sarikas was going to change his stance.
Back in December, when Sarikas was first implicated in the case, the MP himself sent two letters to the Attorney-general giving his consent to the lifting of his immunity so that he could be questioned by police in a bid to clear his name.
However after the Attorney-general decided to press ahead, Sarikas – despite professing his innocence – has opted to lawyer up and double down.
His name came up after Paphos sewerage board director Eftychios Malekkides – himself facing trial on corruption charges – fingered Sarikas as having taken bribes during construction of the first phase of the sewerage project.
According to Malekkides, Sarikas took kickbacks from a representative of a German company which had won the contract to build a sewerage treatment plant.
It’s understood that a second person – a contractor – has since corroborated the allegations against Sarikas, who was mayor of the coastal town at the time.
Six people, including Malekkides and former Paphos mayor Savvas Vergas, are currently facing trial on charges ranging from conspiracy to committing a felony, conspiracy to defraud, bribing a state official, extortion, abusing authority, corruption, to acquiring property by illegal means in the sewerage board scandal. The specific charges relate to a subsequent phase of the sewerage construction project, where kickbacks allegedly resulted in massively inflating the end-cost to taxpayers.
Under the constitution, only the President of the Republic and MPs enjoy immunity. Even if authorities have an airtight case, their hands are tied as they cannot question or prosecute unless immunity has first been lifted, following a ruling by the Supreme Court.
There have been two other cases when an MP has lost his immunity: Lefkios Rodosthenous in 1963 (extortion charges) and Georgios Georgiou in 1985 (forgery-related charges). Both were prosecuted, tried, found guilty and handed prison sentences.