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Vergas placed in protective custody (updated)

Savvas Vergas

By Constantinos Psillides

Former Paphos Savvas Vergas, who pleaded guilty to bribery and money laundering charges in connection with the town’s sewerage scandal, has been transferred to an undisclosed location, instead of prison, and placed under police protection following threats against his life, a state official said on Thursday.

Deputy Attorney-general Rikkos Erotokritou told CyBC radio on Thursday that Vergas had requested protection after he was threatened in connection with a statement he gave two months ago, implicating a certain – unnamed – individual.

“After the former mayor gave a statement admitting to the accusations and while waiting to be taken to court, he told authorities that a person from Paphos approached him and told him not to testify against one of the other defendants. In his statement, Vergas implicated a certain municipal councillor, who, as he said, travelled to Athens and brought money with him. Let’s just leave it at that,” Erotokritou told CyBC radio.

The person who made the threat allegedly told Vergas that he will have a problem in prison if he testified against that person.

Erotokritou added that police have identified the person that threatened Vergas and have filed charges against them.

The deputy attorney-general pointed out that this was just a temporary arrangement.

The decision prompted the reaction of main opposition AKEL MP Irene Charalambidou, who demanded to know whether prison was safe for inmates.

“After the string of suicides in the Central Prison, admitting that some people have the power to control things happening inside is extremely serious,” Charalambidou said.

Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou rejected the suggestion and also took a shot at the legal service.

“I cannot tolerate the insinuation that Central Prison is not safe for inmates,” he said. “I don’t know what Vergas said in his statement to the police, or what the office of the attorney-general has in mind, but I want to assure you that Central Prison safety is not compromised.”

In a statement later in the day, the justice ministry said it had not been informed about the alleged threats.

“Any threats against Mr. Vergas cannot be perceived as a real … without prior investigation and assessment,” the ministry said.

Erotokritou issued a statement later in the day, saying that the decision to place Vergas in protective custody at a place other than prison was not meant to imply that it was not safe.

The deputy attorney-general assured that by placing Vergas under protection did not mean a reduced sentence.

“He will serve his full sentence,” he added.

Vergas’ sentencing hearing is scheduled for Friday.

Vergas and Efthymios Malekkides, the head of the Paphos sewerage board, have pleaded guilty to 11 and 12 charges respectively, including bribery, corruption, and money laundering.

Vergas admitted to receiving €520,000 in bribes and Malekkides pleaded guilty to receiving €498,000.

Both have returned immovable property and cash in a bid for leniency.

Four others, one current and three former municipal councillors, are facing trial in connection with the scandal.

The scandal involves millions in kickbacks given to officials in return for construction contracts relating to the town’s sewerage system.

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