By Angelos Anastasiou
The board of the Cyprus Radio-television Authority (CRA) on Wednesday denied Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides’ allegations that its executive chairman Andreas Petrides tampered with the minutes of a session from 2013.
Michaelides, who appears to have set his sights on Petrides after the CRA boss challenged the auditor’s annual report findings two weeks ago, was reported to have engaged Attorney-general Costas Clerides over alleged tampering with the minutes of a board meeting in February 2013.
“The CRA’s board was convened in an extraordinary session on Tuesday to examine two letters by Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides, dated December 7 and 15, 2015, and categorically denies the claim that minutes were tampered with or amended by its executive chairman Andreas Petrides,” a statement said on Wednesday.
The change Michaelides spotted in the minutes, the CRA said, on which he based his conclusions in the two letters, was made following a unanimous decision of the CRA’s board, which was taken after the issue was revisited in the course of validating the minutes.
“The relevant instructions to CRA staff to implement the board’s final decision were passed by the board’s secretary via email on February 7, 2013,” the statement clarified.
Further, the CRA’s board deemed the auditor-general’s interventions relating to decisions related to the adjudication of individual cases “overstepping his power” and “intervening in the operation and decision-making of the independent Radio-television Authority, which are subject solely to Supreme Court scrutiny”.
“The Authority functions transparently, based on national and European legislation, and reaffirms its intention to maintain cooperation with the auditor-general in the course of exercising his duties, as laid out by the relevant legislation,” it added.
But this matter cannot be debated in public, the Audit Service countered in a statement.
“The Audit Service’s report against the CRA’s chairman, which have been filed with the attorney-general, relate to specific issues, which cannot be discussed in public statements,” it said.
“Today’s statement by the CRA does not affect the essence of the reports.”
The Audit Service added that non-examination of cases brought against TV stations regarding fines to the tune of €500,000, which were subsequently overturned in court, are subject to Audit Service scrutiny, since they relate to the possible loss of state revenue.
“The right of fined TV stations to resort to the Supreme Court, if they disagree with the fines imposed, in no way affects the Audit Service’s right to investigate whether, or not, the CRA preferentially exempts TV stations from fines, resulting in a loss of revenues for the Republic,” the statement said.
Petrides had picked up the baton in the fight against Michaelides’ expanding reach from Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos, who, in the first half of December, had railed against the auditor-general’s tendency to look for government mishandling before any mishandling was done.
This, Hasikos argued, exceeded his mandate, which was merely to review and evaluate executive decisions after they were made and implemented.
Among other things, Hasikos had claimed that Michaelides utilises his media connections to expose would-be wrongdoers, in the process engaging in character assassination, and that the auditor-general’s tactics have scared civil servants into inaction.
In the second half of the month, Petrides protested that incidents mentioned in Michaelides’ annual report for 2014, which raised suspicion that the CRA chairman may have made some questionable decisions.
Petrides, too, repeated Hasikos’ argument of the auditor-general “overstepping his authority”, claiming the CRA is an independent body, answerable only to the Supreme Court.