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Cyprus

Supreme Court lifts EDEK MP’s immunity (update 2)

Fidias Sarikas

By George Psyllides

The Supreme Court has granted the Attorney-general’s request to lift the immunity of EDEK MP Fidias Sarikas, to enable authorities to question, and prosecute him if necessary, in connection with the Paphos sewerage scandal.

The landmark decision covers questioning, arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment.

“Apart from being the third time the court dealt with an application of this nature, it is the first time it issued a ruling affording such a broad scope,” Attorney-general Costas Clerides said.

Sarikas, who was the town’s mayor between 1997 and 2006, has been implicated in the case by other suspects. First elected in parliament in 2006, Sarikas is also the chairman of the House Ethics Committee.

The state told the court they had testimony alleging that Sarikas was receiving bribes to favour certain companies involved with the town’s sewerage system.

It has been claimed that he had asked for, or received, cash to agree to, or help, award contracts to certain companies or people.

“To that end, he maintained a bank account in Greece, where specific amounts he received were deposited,” the court said in its decision, referring to the state’s request.

The alleged crimes happened between 2000 and 2006.

The court said the corruption offenses Sarikas was suspected of, “involve elements of dishonesty and moral turpitude”

If prosecuted and convicted, his seat will be vacated and he could face a long jail term.

Sarikas has rejected allegations but refused to waive his parliamentary immunity, despite a public appeal to the attorney-general earlier on to initiate the procedure.

His defence said Sarikas’ objection only concerned the wide scope of the attorney-general’s application.

The Supreme Court was unanimous on lifting the immunity but the decision on the scope was decided by a seven –four majority.

Defence attorney Chris Triantafyllides suggested that this proved the complexity of the matter.

“He wanted to give a statement, and he will give a statement, and he will not invoke the constitutional privilege of silence, which every citizen has,” Triantafyllides said.

Authorities have so far charged six suspects in connection with the scandal, former Paphos mayor Savvas Vergas, suspended sewerage board director Eftychios Malekkides, former DISY municipal councillor Giorgos Michaelides, former DIKO councillor Efstathios Efstathiou, former AKEL councillor Vasos Vasiliou, and sitting AKEL councillor Giorgos Shailis.

They are facing charges of conspiring to extort money from private contractors, among others.

Vergas and Malekkides, who are expected to plead guilty, are in the process of returning property and cash to the state.

Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos on Monday signed the necessary authorisation for the property to be transferred to the state.

“After their admission, Mssrs Vergas and Malekkides felt the need – I don’t know why and how – to return immovable property also, apart from cash,” Hasikos said. The value was not made public.

The minister said he did not know if the pair were seeking leniency.

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