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Cyprus

Interior minister hits back over auditor general report

Interior minister Socratis Hasikos

By Elias Hazou

Interior minister Socratis Hasikos on Tuesday launched a blistering attack on auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides, whom he accused of singling him out while turning a blind eye to the real miscreants in the public sector.

“If it is demonstrated that I do not respect the laws and the constitution, I will resign yesterday,” the minister said.

The spark igniting the latest row between the two was Michaelides’ 2014 audit report, where the auditor-general suggested that two interior ministers – Hasikos and a former one – could be culpable of disciplinary offences in relation to transfers and sales of Turkish Cypriot properties.

The interior minister, in his capacity as the Guardian of Turkish Cypriot properties, must rubberstamp these transactions.

In his report, Michaelides cited a number of cases where Turkish Cypriot lands were sold at below-market values to Greek Cypriot entrepreneurs, who went on to re-sell them at far higher prices, pointing to profiteering.

Estimates on the land value before the sale were carried out by the land registry.

The auditor-general said that in a letter to Hasikos, he urged him to launch a disciplinary probe into the case of two land registry employees.

Michaelides had reason to believe the two female civil servants may be guilty of graft, as the husband of one of them was employed with the company which was the beneficiary of the sale of a Turkish Cypriot property.

The case dated back to the previous administration. Michaelides had also recommended that this merited a police investigation.

But Hasikos refused to conduct a probe. The minister’s contention is that the two employees in question merely filed these cases, they were not directly involved.

Hitting back, Hasikos accused the auditor-general of bias.

He said that in both instances, the Turkish Cypriot owners’ interests were secured, in that they received fair compensation.

In the first case, a parcel of a Turkish Cypriot’s land located in Limni and within a tract owned by Shacolas, was exchanged for another plot – again belonging to Shacolas – of greater value.

The second case was similar, but involved the Lanitis Group.

“For his part, the auditor-general believes that in reality the land was sold to Shacolas and so forth. Fine, let him work it out with the Attorney-general,” Hasikos told the state broadcaster.

He wondered why Michaelides did not bother with another case pointing to conflict of interest.

He was referring to the loss-making Kofinou slaughterhouse, which was shut down in late 2013.

According to Hasikos, the husband of the accountant-general works for a company called Cypra, which was the main competitor of the Kofinou abattoir.

Cypra has been engaged in legal wrangles with the state, alleging that the slaughterhouse was the recipient of state aid in breach of EU regulations.

Hasikos’ implication was that the accountant-general had access to inside information which might benefit her spouse.

The minister said he had previously secured a court order allowing the state to sell off or lease the Kofinou slaughterhouse after its shuttering.

“A few days ago, the auditor-general sent me a letter saying ‘stop what you are doing with the leasing of the slaughterhouse’. Evidently, he was ignorant of a court decision allowing me to lease it.

“Later, a meeting was held at the office of the Commissioner for State Aid Control, in which there took part representatives of the interior ministry, the accountant-general’s office, the attorney-general’s office and the auditor-general in person. A few hours later, the court issued a new order forbidding the state to lease the slaughterhouse.

“Mercy! Enough with this graft!» remarked Hasikos.

Accountant-general Rea Georgiou issued a statement later in the day, denying the minister’s allegations.

She stated that it is her policy to recuse herself whenever a matter comes up involving a family member.

“As accountant-general of the Republic, I exercise my duties based on the public interest, which I serve first and foremost above any personal interest,” she said.


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