By Constantinos Psillides
FORMER Paphos mayor Savvas Vergas and the head of the town’s sewerage board will be sentenced on Wednesday in connection with corruption charges relating to the construction of the sewage system, the Criminal Court said yesterday, as defence lawyers wrapped up their plea in mitigation.
Vergas and Eftychios Malekides have pleaded guilty to 11 and 12 charges, respectively, including bribery, corruption, and money laundering.
Vergas admitted to receiving €520,000 in bribes and Malekides pleaded guilty to receiving €498,000.
Both have returned immovable property and cash in a bid for leniency.
Malekides’ defence lawyers told the court yesterday that their client has volunteered a statement that aided in solving the case and bringing anyone who participated in the scandal to justice.
They called upon the court to ignore calls for exemplary punishment made by state officials, parties and even Archbishop Chrysostomos, arguing that public outcry should not be the only factor to consider, since the goal of sentencing is “foremost to rehabilitate the defendant.” The lawyers added that Malekides has no prior offences and that he was a pillar of the community.
They also raised the issue of Malekides’ family status. The defendant is a divorced father of two. His ex wife Samantha S Malekides-Kruse has been living in Cyprus for the past 20 years. In 2004 the Paphos court decided on a “shared custody” for the couple. Both children live with their mother except the weekends. The couple’s daughter is 15 and their son almost 17.
Malekides’ lawyers also echoed an argument put forth by Vergas’ defence during his mitigation plea on Wednesday. Namely, that the state distinguishes unfairly between the defendants and the contractors who paid them off, since they admitted to the same crime as their clients.
CEOs of five major construction companies (Atlas Pantou, Medcon, Nemesis, Iacovou Bros and General Constructions Co.) were questioned by investigators and admitted to bribing Vergas and Malekides to secure sewerage contracts.
All of them claimed that they had no other option. They were released under the provision that they turn prosecution witnesses.
Finally, the lawyers claimed that Malekides has shown sincere remorse for his actions, as evidenced by the return of half a million euros worth in private property to the state.
Four others are facing trial in connection with the scandal.
Former DISY municipal councillor Giorgos Michaelides, former DIKO councillor Efstathios Efstathiou, former AKEL councillor Vasos Vasiliou and current AKEL municipal councillor Giorgos Shialis.
They face a total of 42 charges.
Vergas is expected to testify as a prosecution witness.
The SAPA scandal, which came to light last year after a report filed by Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides, involves kickbacks construction companies were sometimes asked to pay to officials in order to secure contracts and to have projects run smoothly.
The scam saddled the municipality, and subsequently the taxpayer, with extra costs due to often-unnecessary additional work on the project. The SAPA project came in some €40m over budget.