By Elias Hazou
Ruling DISY leader Averof Neophytou has admitted his party received hundreds of thousands of euro from Focus Maritime Corporation to subsidise air fares for students flown in from abroad to vote in the 2008 elections.
Previously, DISY had confessed only to receiving €50,000 from Focus, which is owned by Greek shipowner Michalis Zolotas, a close associate to former Laiki strongman Andreas Vgenopoulos.
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.
In an interview with the Plus channel, televised on Tuesday evening, DISY’s Neofytou said that Zolotas had also gathered hundreds of thousands of euros in donations, which were then funnelled into an account to pay the air fares of students travelling back to Cyprus to vote in the 2008 presidential elections.
But in a masterstroke of political spin, Neofytou went on to bemoan these practices, saying that political parties would never have resorted to them had Cypriot nationals living abroad been able to cast their vote in their country of residence.
In effect, he was arguing that parties could not afford to fly people in from abroad, forcing them to seek funding from outside sources.
But the DISY boss also urged other parties to come clean, hinting they were all engaging in similar practices.
“OK, if the other parties did not receive contributions from Focus, where did they get the money for their election campaigns which cost millions? And if DISY and AKEL are the most corrupt because they took contributions from Focus – incidentally DISY owes more than €3.5m – how did some other parties, who not only do not have debts but keep millions in the banks, afford it… do they have a money printing press?
“Did other parties not take contributions from businesspeople who today have outstanding loans that are not being serviced?” he asked.
His remarks drew an indignant response from the other parties.
EVROKO head Demetris Syllouris rejected the insinuation, inviting the Attorney-general and the Auditor-general to comb through his party’s books.
They would duly discover that EVROKO received no financing from Focus, he asserted.
And the Attorney-general should speed up an investigation into all the parties’ finances, added Syllouris.
“He should find which parties took money, how much, and what was the trade-off.”
Likewise the Greens’ George Perdikis denied his party had any connections to Focus.
“The same people who took the money are now trying to convince us that we were all on the take and that we are corrupted by the financial establishment,” he said.
Chiming in, the Citizens’ Alliance said they were not bankrolled to the tune of millions, be it by Focus or any other corporation.
Their political movement spent €255,000 for the 2014 European parliament elections of 2014, the statement added.
Last year, daily Politis broke the story that €1.5m was given by Focus to AKEL and €500,000 to DISY – in late 2007 and early 2008.
Following the reveal, DISY kept changing their story. Initially denying taking any money from Focus, they subsequently admitted to taking €50,000 in contributions, but said they were unable to account for the other €450,000 allegedly received from the same company.
According to Politis, DISY first received the whole sum but returned €450,000, realising that it would raise suspicions.
Three weeks later, the paper reported, 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 wanting to return home for the elections.
The parties are loathe to be linked to Vgenopoulos, whom many here blame for the demise of Laiki, which ultimately led to or precipitated the 2013 financial meltdown.