Cyprus Mail
Cyprus

State ‘deceived’ in Erimi land scandal

Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides (right) and Finance Minister Harris Georgiades

€540,000 was paid to former minister’s company
By Evie Andreou

A LETTER sent by Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides to parliament suggests that the state was deceived by a former minister’s company that bought a large estate on the cheap, because it had archaeological finds on it, only to be carved up and sold as 54 commercial plots later.

Furthermore, eleven years after the deal, the company received more than half a million euros in the form of compensation as two of the plots had been appropriated by the state.

The letter was received by the House Watchdog committee on Thursday and is the outcome of an investigation ordered last month when the committee first discussed the issue.

According to the letter, in November 2001, land in the Pitharka location in Erimi was bought for ₤2,750 (€4,690) by Martin Blue Ltd, a company whose director was former Communications and Works minister Adamos Adamides from 1993 to 1997.

A month earlier, in October 2001, antiquities had been discovered on the same piece of land, the letter said.

The committee heard that the company carved the land into 54 plots and sold them, while in 2012, more than €540,000 was paid to the company by the government for the antiquities departmentof two of these plots.

The committee also heard that people that had bought the remaining plots are still unable to either sell or build on them, as their property was being held since 2004, without an appropriation order.

“These people cannot do anything with the land they bought; some of them have health issues and they need the money,” AKEL MP Irene Charalambidou told the Cyprus Mail.

“The question I posed to the committee was whether the person who sold these plots knew that that piece of land had archaeological value, because then we are talking about deceit,” Charalambidou said.

The committee also debated how the company received the green light from the Land registry and Town planning to carve out plots and sell them, only for the owners to discover later that they could not build on them.

Committee chairman Giorgos Georgiou was curious how such a large stretch of land can be reserved since 2004 when even the most ignorant individual knows it has archaeological value, since plots next to it were appropriated for the same reason.

Interior minister Socratis Hasikos, who attended the committee’s meeting, admitted that the state services ought to have first checked with the antiquities department before granting any permission.

He said that in the case of Erimi, the state owes €5m in appropriations.

The committee was also told that the state owes €430m for properties that have been appropriated, and that stricter criteria have been put in place to tackle the phenomenon, which caused the state to waste millions on properties held for years and not used for the purpose they were appropriated for.

Auditor-general Michaelides had told the committee that when he first investigated the case in 2007, as the head of the Works ministry’s audit service, he had found that the former head of the antiquities department, who retired before the investigation was over, had committed disciplinary offences regarding this case, but that he suffered no sanctions as according to the law civil servants that no longer serve, are not persecuted.

He also said that from this earlier investigation, it became clear that the owner that carved out the plots, was aware of the issue.

Michaelides said that it was clearly a matter of people being misled and of negligence and that no evidence was found to prove criminal offenses had been committed, but that was up to the Legal services to decide.

It was reported on Friday that the Interior ministry had launched an investigation on the matter after the revelation of the Auditor-general’s letter.

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