Cyprus Mail

Much ado about nothing in Ryanair legal debacle

By Elias Hazou

NO one connected to the former law firm of President Nicos Anastasiades appears to have broken the law, the Attorney-general said yesterday.

“Based on existing evidence, there does not appear to be cause to investigate a possible criminal offence by any person or legal entity,” AG Costas Clerides said in a statement.

Issues pertaining to ethics or potential conflict of interest do not fall under the scope of the Attorney-general’s office, he added.

The AG had been asked by Anastasiades himself to look into the level of involvement of Nicos Chr. Anastasiades & Partners – a law firm the President co-founded – in representing Ryanair in the latter’s bid to buy off the now defunct Cyprus Airways.

Last week, Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides, having investigated the same, said he found no indication that Anastasiades was involved in the process.

That probe was launched after it was reported that the firm had represented Ryanair back in September when it had submitted a bid to buy the former national carrier.

The law firm said they initially acted as legal advisors for Ryanair in relation to Cyprus Airways but subsequently terminated their relationship with the Irish airline.

The firm had released a letter to the low-cost airline, dated September 30, through which it had informed Ryanair in writing that they were no longer interested in acting as their legal advisors in the process.

Ryanair was taken over by Soteris Pittas LLC.

However, in a meeting discussing Cyprus Airways on October 31, along with Pittas were two lawyers who, it transpired later, worked for the Anastasiades law firm.

The two apparently tried to disguise their identities by signing with different names.

The “presence, role and comport” of these two lawyers at the October 31 meet is, meanwhile, to be investigated by the Bar Association, following a decision by the Attorney-general, who chairs the association.

Over the weekend, Fanos Philippou, one of two senior partners in the law firm, took full responsibility for the October 31 meeting, saying it was his own decision to send the two lawyers.

In a statement, Philippou said the two lawyers were asked to attend by Soteris Pittas LLC in order to assist with any pertinent information on the Cyprus Airways case. The two kept a low profile throughout, and did not stay there for more than 30 minutes.

Philippou rejected the notion that the two lawyers disguised their identities.

According to Philippou, on assuming office in March 2013, Anastasiades had given his former law firm strict and explicit instructions to refrain from representing any clients “whose interest depends on government decisions,” in a bid to avoid even the veneer of conflict of interest.

However, on Philippou’s own recommendation, on September 21 last year the firm agreed to represent Ryanair regarding its interest in Cyprus Airways. He subsequently informed the President of this decision.

“Mr. Anastasiades was categorically against this, and so on September 30, we addressed a letter to Ryanair terminating our association.”

On October 8, Philippou said, he personally accompanied Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary to a meeting with Anastasiades at the Presidential Palace.

However, during a session of the Cabinet held later the same day, Anastasiades instructed the body to reject Ryanair’s proposal, arguing that the airline’s bid was “unacceptable.”

This in itself, far from suggesting impropriety or conflict of interest, proved the opposite, argued Philippou.

He also sought to play down the role of Anastasiades’ two daughters, who are partners in the same law firm, something which has prompted criticism that the President continues to have ties to the company despite his repeated denials.

According to Philippou, Anastasiades’ daughters became partners there after their father’s election to the Presidency. What’s more, he said, the daughters are not managing partners in the company and have no say in its running.

It is clear, Philippou said, that the allegations of improper conduct are politically motivated against the President.

But the Greens party was unconvinced. In a statement yesterday, they set out the following ‘logical’ question: “If the law firm is independent of the President, as it is being claimed, how is it that it immediately heeded the President’s call [for the law firm to terminate its association with Ryanair]?”

Also over the weekend, Anastasiades issued a terse statement “lamenting the political ethos of all those who deliberately seek to twist the facts.

“If it were true that I went along with, or was implicated, in any conflict of interest, would I have asked the Commissioner for Privatisations to initiate a new call for interest [in Cyprus Airways], thereby eliminating Ryanair?”

Despite the explanations, DIKO leader Nicholas Papadopoulos banged on. Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Papadopoulos drew attention to Anastasiades’ earlier pledge to resign if the law firm was found to be involved with Ryanair’s decisions.

Asked whether in his opinion the President should therefore now step down, Papadopoulos dodged a direct answer.

“I want him to clarify what he meant. He should explain to us whether he was playing with words or taking people for a ride.”

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