(Updated with quotes by Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos and Eleni Mavrou)
By Angelos Anastasiou
Fuelling a brewing bout of finger-pointing between Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos and his predecessor Eleni Mavrou, twelve politically exposed persons (PEPs) were named as having benefited from favourable amendments to the zoning designation of land they owned, boosting its value overnight, daily Politis reported on Wednesday.
The issue was raised by Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides in his 2014 annual report, published on Monday, embroiling Mavrou and Hasikos in dubious decisions relating to upgrading land designations.
In the report, the audit chief described the legal – if politically questionable – method employed by Mavrou in allocating higher building coefficients to specific parts of Nicosia, Limassol and Paphos, contrary to the earlier recommendations of local objection review boards, which were appointed and tasked to review requests for zoning amendments.
Although Michaelides’ report mentioned no names, Politis published a letter he sent the interior ministry in October, in which he listed twelve PEPs who benefited from these amendments.
Among them were Persefoni Costa Kollakidou, Nicosia municipal councillor with DIKO, Varvara Petrou Petropoulou, wife of Citizens’ Alliance leader Yiorgos Lillikas, Avgi Constantinou Mylona, director at the Central Bank of Cyprus, and Panayiotis Ioannis Tsentas, former Karavas mayor. They own land originally designated as agricultural in an area of Yeri, Nicosia, which Mavrou designated as residential.
Another case uncovered by Michaelides involved a request by a land-development company to have the building coefficient of a plot it owned in Ayios Tychonas, Limassol, raised from 50 to 60 per cent, which Mavrou approved. The company, Stademos Hotels Plc, is 11-per-cent owned by former President Yiorgos Vassiliou, whose daughter Sofia is one of the directors of the company, along with Loris Lyshiotis (former AKEL deputy) and Christodoulos Mavrellis (former government minister in the 1980s under Spyros Kyprianou).
Additionally, a similar upgrade to building coefficients in Pano Polemidhia, Limassol, by which a private school was allowed to build its premises in a plot that was previously listed as agricultural, was the result of a request prepared by former Yermasoyia mayor Panicos Louroudjiatis, and filed by civil engineer Nicos Anastasiou – also deputy mayor of Polemidhia.
Louroudjiatis features in another case of boosted coefficients – one in Yermasoyia, Limassol, of which he had served as mayor. He and Androulla Louroudjiati, municipal councillor with AKEL since 2011, were found by Michaelides to own land in an area that was designated by Mavrou as residential, raising the building coefficient from 10 to 30 per cent.
A final case cited by Michaelides related to an area in Tremithousa, Paphos, where agricultural land was also designated residential. Fanoulla Taliotou, wife of Nicolas Taliotis, who had run for parliament with AKEL in 2001, was found to own two plots of land in said area.
In her remarks to Michaelides’ findings back in October, Mavrou justified her decisions by invoking the ‘greater good’. Addressing her overriding the objection review boards’ decisions to approve requests, she invoked the need for consistency, as similar ones in other areas had been approved.
But, she conceded to Michaelides’ noting of insufficient record-keeping into the rationale for the amendments when he said extended discussions that preceded the decisions “should have been recorded in the minutes”.
Meanwhile, the auditor-general’s report has led to a spat between Mavrou and Hasikos, because the Ayios Tychonas and Polemidhia cases were caught in the transition of governments in 2013, meaning they were approved after Hasikos took over the ministry.
In a news conference on Wednesday, Hasikos said the government is willing to freeze the suspect designations until each case can be reviewed, provided development has not yet started on the land, but fell short of explaining why he signed off on the two as-yet-unapproved cases after he took office.
“In amending land-zoning designations many stakeholders participate – government technocrats, local authorities, private-sector experts, even the technical chamber, and contradicting the recommendation of the competent bodies should be fully justified,” he said.
“This was Mrs Mavrou’s faux pas.”
In turn, the former minister interpreted this as an effort by Hasikos to pin all the contentious decisions on her.
“I get the impression that Mr Hasikos is merely trying to divert attention away from the very serious problems the auditor-general has reported on his ministry,” Mavrou said in a statement.
“I reiterate that in at least two cases, the decisions were made by him personally. Had he found my recommendations unjustified, he had all the time and authority in the world to change them.”