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Cyprus

TEPAK scandal could be bigger than SAPA stink

Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides

By Constantinos Psillides

THE case of misappropriation of funds at the Cyprus University of Technology (TEPAK) might even be bigger than the Paphos Sewerage Board (SAPA) scandal, Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides has said.

In an interview on CyBC, Michaelides said the TEPAK case included shady contracts for around 60 buildings acquired to accommodate students, with the contracts estimated to be in the millions.

“The way by which the university bought or rented those buildings is definitely not one that ensures that taxpayer money wasn’t wasted. The people in charge of drafting the contracts did not care about looking after the public interest. The deals struck were often inequitable for the university,” Michaelides said, adding that it remains to be seen whether this was the result of incompetence or corruption.

“Only a court can rule whether the people drafting these deals were just incompetent or whether they got a whiff of the honey jar and decided to dip their fingers in it,” said the Auditor-general, adding that it is best that he doesn’t comment on a case that is currently on trial.

Both the TEPAK and SAPA scandals surfaced following revelations by the Auditor-general’s office. The SAPA scandal saw former Paphos mayor Savvas Vergas sentenced to six years in prison for corruption. The mayor was part of a ring that had demanded bribes from construction companies in order to secure contracts.

The mayor, as well as the board’s manager Eftychios Malekides, were forced to pay the state around half a million euros each.

While the SAPA trial is concluded, the TEPAK case is only just starting. Zenon Achillides, 44, head of TEPAK’s property management service, and a 51-year-old contractor, Giorgos Hadjigeorgiou, are to appear before the Limassol Assize court on June 3 for the first hearing in the case.

The pair faces 20 charges including conspiring to commit a felony, forgery, circulating a forged document and obtaining money through false pretences.

Achillides was also charged with receiving bribes and abuse of authority. Both have denied all charges.

Achillides and Hadjigeorgiou were arrested two months ago in connection to alleged unauthorised payments, double charges and other offences.

During one of the remand hearings, the court heard that €35,618 had been charged to install flooring in a building. It emerged that the amount did not concern equipment, but additional work that was not provided for in the contract.

Among others, the contractor is also accused of charging and receiving €421,000 for additional work at another building, which had been the obligation of the owner.

The work included the installation of special piping for medical gas, worth €42,000, which was never put in. Instead, the contractor allegedly installed ordinary pipes worth €3,000.

The police investigator also presented the court with testimony that the contracts should not have included provisions covering the cost of additional equipment and work, which should have been done through public tenders.

Additionally, an agreement was signed on November 3, 2008, between Achillides and Hadjigeorgiou, who was the owner, to rent a third building for €22,600 per month. The agreement was not authorised by the university authorities and no minutes exist.

The agreement included payment of €1.1m for work to the building, out of which €180,000 was paid for work already done in 2007.

Investigators also traced another payment for additional work, dated December 2009, for €271,000. It included an extractor for a laboratory worth €6,500, which was charged again a year later.

A contract for additional renovation work was also signed for a fourth building, again without authorisation, the court had heard.

The contract included expenses that the owner of the building should have footed. There was also a charge of €24,000 for special laboratory flooring which was never installed.

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