By Elias Hazou
Former Cypriot interior minister Dinos Michaelides, convicted for bribery in Greece earlier this year, was on Wednesday evening released from jail early on health grounds.
Michaelides is free having served only 10 months of his 15-year prison sentence.
“I am breathing free air,” he told a Cyprus News Agency (CNA) reporter over the phone shortly after his release.
Family members travelled to Greece to be by his side.
According to the CNA, the former politician will be staying at a relative’s house in Athens. Per the terms of his release, he is still prohibited from leaving Greece until a final judgment is issued in his case, which is pending appeal.
Michaelides is appealing a decision by a Greek court, which back in February sentenced him to 15 years in prison, having found him – and his son Michalis – guilty of bribery and money laundering in relation to the purchase of Russian TOR-M1 anti-aircraft missiles by Greece during the term of Akis Tsohatzopoulos as Greek defence minister.
According to online news portal “To Kouti tis Pandoras,” Michaelides was freed after successfully invoking a clause in the Greek penal code, under which inmates with a disability of 67 per cent or more may request their release.
The relevant clause came into effect last April after amendments to the penal code. These were introduced by Greece’s justice minister Nikos Paraskevopoulos, amid criticism that they were purpose-made to enable the release of Savvas Xiros, a member of the 17 November terrorist organisation.
The amendments mean that Michaelides is no longer required to post bond.
The same site reported that Michaelides, 80, was diagnosed with a disability of over 80 per cent, having been found to be suffering from a heart condition as well as visual and hearing impairment.
Michaelides and his son were accused of facilitating payments by a Syrian-born businessman to Tsohatzopoulos, a founding member of Greece’s Socialist PASOK party who served as defence minister from 1996 to 2001.
The two were suspected of money laundering, involving kickbacks of €7.7 million believed to have eventually ended up in the hands of Tsohatzopoulos who signed the agreement for the supply of the missile system.
Greek investigators found that the millions in kickbacks were sent from one offshore company to Michalis Michaelides’ account, to which his father Dinos also had access.
In June of this year, an Athens court upheld a petition by Michaelides that he be released on health grounds and on account of his advanced age.
The court also ruled that under the terms of his release Michaelides would be barred from leaving the country and must appear at a police station twice a month.
But the release was conditional on Michaelides posting a €700,000 bond, which the family said it could not raise at the time, meaning the former politician had to remain behind bars.
Michaelides served as interior minister in two governments, the latest in the late 1990s. He was extradited to Greece in 2013.
He was forced to step down as interior minister in 1999 during Glafcos Clerides’ administration after then ombudswoman Eliana Nicolaou questioned planning changes to land which Michaelides later bought and built a luxury home on.
Michaelides said at the time he was being “defamed”. He also served as interior minister between 1985 and 1988 for the Spyros Kyprianou government and between 1993 and 1997, again for Clerides.