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Cyprus

Focus slush funds raise fresh political storm

Nicolas Papadopoulos stated yesterday that Focus Maritime Corporation – apparently donated money in 2008 to political parties AKEL and DISY so that then-presidential candidate Tassos Papadopoulos would not be elected

By Constantinos Psillides

DIKO leader Nicolas Papadopoulos stated yesterday that Focus Maritime Corporation – owned by Greek shipowner Michalis Zolotas, a close associate to former Laiki strongman Andreas Vgenopoulos – apparently donated money in 2008 to political parties AKEL and DISY so that then-presidential candidate Tassos Papadopoulos would not be elected.

In 2008, the late former president was up for re-election and facing AKEL candidate Demetris Christofias and DISY candidate Ioannis Kasoulides.

Daily Politis reported in April 2014 that €1.5m was contributed to AKEL and €500,000 to DISY – in late 2007 and early 2008.

President Nicos Anastasiades said that the matter will be thoroughly investigated and tasked Attorney-general Costas Clerides with launching a probe. The issue resurfaced on Tuesday after Clerides told the Cyprus News Agency that “the investigation is in its final stages.”

“There are a number of questions that should be answered and are addressed to specific individuals, namely messrs Christofias and Kasoulides. They are the ones that got the money, if the latest news reports are true,” said Papadopoulos, referring to a story published by Politis on Wednesday. The daily went into further detail regarding the money trail, claiming that AKEL and DISY leaders, Andros Kyprianou and Averof Neofytou, will be called in by the AG to be informed on the findings of the investigation.

The news report said Focus paid €500,000 directly to DISY in ten instalments of €50,000 in January and February of 2008, and almost €1.5m to AKEL – of which €1m was paid through offshore Abendale Management Corporation in two equal instalments in September 2007, and €450,000 in June 2008 through audit firm Kyprianides, Nicolaou & Partners. The firm had denied any wrongdoing, claiming that the money was paid for services rendered.

Politis claims that DISY first received the whole sum but returned €450,000, realising that it would raise suspicions. The report goes on to say that three weeks after, DISY proposed that the money be deposited in an account owned by a company called Rizokarpaso Shipping Ltd. and then to an account in the Marshall islands used to pay a travel agency in 2008 that was commissioned by DISY to make arrangements for students who wanted to return home for the elections.

“They need to answer why they accepted such a large donation from one of Vgenopoulos’ associates and why they tried to hide the money’s origin through such complex procedures. Who benefited from that money? In whose pockets did they end up,” asked Papadopoulos, demanding of the Attorney-general to wrap up the investigations as soon as possible.

Back in April, DISY admitted to receiving €50,000 from Focus, claiming that they returned the money.

Among other business connections, Zolotas participated in a €5.2bn capital increase in 2007 of MIG – Vgenopoulos’ investment group – partly using funds allegedly loaned to him by Marfin-Laiki and collateralised only by the MIG shares bought, a claim Vgenopoulos has repeatedly denied.

Focus was also reported as having paid former Central Bank Governor Christodoulos Christodoulou €1m in July 2007 – two months after he had stepped down as Governor. Christodoulou justified the payment as “consultancy services for ten years, paid in advance” and clarified that the account the funds were paid into was not his own but belonged to a company run by his daughter.

Christodoulou was sentenced to five months in jail in 2014 for failing to pay taxes on the amount received from Focus, and released last month.
Both AKEL and DISY issued statements asking the Attorney-general to conclude the investigation as soon as possible, once again denying any wrongdoing.

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