By George Psyllides
JUSTICE Minister Ionas Nicolaou on Monday rejected as “malicious” suggestions he was obstructing a probe into a deal involving thousands of faulty wooden electricity poles because he had a vested interest in the case.
The minister said he had been involved in the affair in 2004 in his capacity as a lawyer but had nothing to do with the decision by the electricity authority (EAC) to procure what later proved to be over 30,000 faulty poles.
Nicolaou’s reaction came after the Green Party suggested police were dragging their feet in investigating the case.
The party said police had been given instructions to investigate the case at the beginning of 2015 but nothing had come of it nine months later.
“As time passes, the possibility of a full investigation into the scandal decreases,” the party said. “The Green Party wonders whether this long and inefficient process is linked to the fact that the political superior of the police, i.e. the minister of justice, is allegedly related to the case through his law firm.
“We do not want to believe… it is related to political affiliations and interests but the months-long delay in completing the investigation, however, raises justified suspicions.”
Nicolaou said he represented the supplier at the tender review board and nothing else.
“The attempt to suggest either direct or indirect involvement on my part in the supply of the faulty poles … is unacceptable and malicious and is directed against every lawyer handling a case before a judicial or other authority,” the minister said in a written statement.
Nicolaou described the whole affair as a witch hunt.
“I understand there are political expediencies behind such moves, but at the same time everybody’s obligation to display the necessary respect to” the rule of law should not be disregarded, he said.
Police responded on Sunday, saying the case file had been received in January 2015 with instructions from the Legal Service to investigate whether any criminal offence had been committed.
The probe began immediately, a police statement said, and in this context a huge amount of statements and documents were gathered “which are being assessed”.
Requests for judicial assistance have been sent to three countries and responses are expected in due course, the police added.
“The investigation of the case is in its final stage and the questioning of suspects will follow,” the statement said, after which the file will be sent to the attorney-general’s office.
Allegations of delays and interventions had no basis in reality, the police said.
In a recent House Watchdog committee session it was reaffirmed that the rotting poles have cost the Electricity Authority of Cyprus (EAC) an estimated €10mln, and that the problem was known about a year after the poles were purchased.
While the EAC had traditionally bought poles from Scandinavian companies, the order of faulty ones marked the first time it opted to buy from a Greek company.
According to the EAC five officials were involved, of whom four have since retired.
It has ordered a disciplinary probe into the remaining official, who is still employed by the company.
By George Psyllides