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Cyprus

Attorney-general threatens to chase MPs for driving offences

DISY MP Andreas Themistocleous

By George Psyllides

Attorney-general Costas Clerides warned on Monday that he would be initiating procedures to lift the parliamentary immunity of MPs who violated traffic laws and in some cases insulted police officers who caught them in the act.

The current practice is to shelve the fines and request their payment after the MPs finish their term.

But it appears that some MPs have gone overboard, not only as regards the seriousness of the violation, but also their behaviour towards the officers who catch them.

“This behaviour will not be tolerated,” Clerides told state television CyBC on Monday, adding that he would be looking into initiating legal procedures to lift the parliamentary immunity of the offenders.

Clerides said in some cases the speed caused safety concerns, but there was also the “disgraceful” behaviour towards officers.

His comment followed a report in daily Politis newspaper, which said that MPs routinely broke traffic laws and cited their parliamentary immunity when caught.

According to Article 83 (2) of the constitution, MPs cannot be prosecuted, arrested, or imprisoned, without the Supreme Court’s permission unless the offence is punishable with death or imprisonment for five years or more and the offender is caught in the act.

Paragraph four however, allows for the enforcement of any sentence to be postponed until the individual ceases to be an MP.

And the period an individual spends serving in parliament “shall not be reckoned for the purposes of any period of prescription for the offence in question.”

One of the prime offenders, according to Politis, was DISY’s Limassol MP Andreas Themistocleous, who also spoke on the same programme, suggesting it was a smear campaign.

Politis said in the past year, Themistocleous was caught three times speeding on the Limassol to Nicosia motorway.

The most serious case was on the morning of April 4 when he was caught doing 172 kilometres per hour. The speed limit on the motorway is 100 km/h but drivers are ‘allowed’ to break it as long as they do not exceed 120.

On February 12, Themistocleous was caught doing 170, and 141 on October 14, 2014.

In the latter case, according to the newspaper, when the police officer informed him of his offence, he told her “Wait until I have a word with your chief. Who told you you can report an MP?”

He also reportedly shouted and invoked his immunity.

The paper said other MPs also displayed similar behaviour but for Themistocleous especially, a letter had been sent – from the police through the attorney-general – to the House president, informing him that the DISY MP would be prosecuted after his term was up.

On Monday, Themistocleous described the fuss as re-heated food, “lies and inaccuracies aimed at smearing specific people, in this case myself”.

The MP said he was perhaps one of only few MPs who paid their fines and said he had a great deal of proof for a variety of offences including parking, seatbelt use, mobile phone use while driving, or speeding.

He claimed he only knew of two of the cases mentioned by Politis and said Clerides was lying when he said he would prosecute him when he left the legislature.

Themistocleous based this on the fact that Clerides had taken him to court three times so far and was forced to suspend prosecution.

“The attorney-general’s objective was not to dispense justice … but to vilify me,” he said.

The AG, speaking from abroad, stressed that he was making a general comment and was not referring to any MP specifically.

He added that he had not read the report in Politis but was not going to get into a debate with Themisticleous.

It was the second time the issue of parliamentary immunity and its abuse by MPs has come to the fore in recent days.

A couple of weeks ago, DISY MP Evgenios Hamboullas uploaded a photo on social media of himself at a dinner table with a platter of songbirds whose hunting and consumption are banned.

Hamboullas, a member of the House environment committee, admitted to eating the birds and that he did because he believed the law was wrong.

“I’m not going to tell you where I got them from (the songbirds) but I will tell you one thing. Whenever someone puts them in front me, I eat them. I have no problem. If I’ve committed a crime for this let them take me to court.”

The MP also stressed that he would not be using his parliamentary immunity to hide from the consequences.

Clerides decided not to go after the MP, a move that draw plenty of criticism.

“The behaviour of the particular MP is reprehensible and will be judged by the people and not by court,” he said.

However, people are collecting signatures through an online petition (https://goo.gl/j4y19w) to compel the attorney-general to prosecute Hamboullas.

Some 1,140 people had signed the petition and the aim was to reach 2,000.

 

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