Cyprus Mail

Audit service digs heels in on row with radio and television authority

By Angelos Anastasiou

Despite arguing that the issue should not be discussed publicly a mere 24 hours previously, the Audit Service on Thursday produced details on the reports filed against executive chairman of the Cyprus Radiotelevision Authority (CRA) Andreas Petrides to the attorney-general’s office.

Petrides had gone on state radio on Thursday morning, repeating his claims that Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides has no authority to investigate an independent body, by law answerable only to the Supreme Court, drawing further reaction from Michaelides.

“Mr Petrides’ attitude on state radio was both unacceptable and inappropriate, as was the content of his recent letters to the Audit Service,” the audit watchdog said. “This does not honour him.”

In recent weeks, a series of letters between the Audit Service and Petrides debated the service’s role, and the issues Michaelides raised in his 2014 annual report, published earlier this month. Among the issues raised by Michaelides was the CRA’s suspect decision to forego re-examining 23 fines it imposed on television stations in 2013, which were subsequently overturned by the Supreme Court.

Denying the suspicions raised by the auditor-general, Petrides’ main theme has been that the boundaries of his jurisdiction are being trampled, since the CRA is an independent body that can only be scrutinised by the Supreme Court.

“Mr Petrides’ obvious attempt to raise obstacles in investigating this matter, as well as others we have raised, will fail,” the Audit Service responded.

Specific cases have been forwarded to the attorney-general, the statement added, so that he can judge whether criminal offences have been committed.

“A 2013 CRA board meeting decided to re-examine 23 overturned decisions, by which fines of €500,000 had been imposed on television stations,” the statement explained.

“On the back of this decision, letters were sent to the implicated stations, that the decisions would be re-examined. Subsequently, altered records were found in the CRA’s archives, stating that the authority had the meeting supposedly decided against re-examination, without any justification. Simply that non-re-examination was decided.”

The statement added that a fresh batch of letters was sent to the implicated stations, informing them that the decisions would not be re-examined, but “there is no record of a subsequent CRA decision to forego re-examination”.

“It is noted that, in any case, re-examination following the overturning of a decision by the Supreme Court is a legal obligation of the administrative body,” the statement said.

With regard to Petrides’ claim that the CRA has the discretion to exempt television stations from fines, and forego legally obligatory actions, and that the Audit Service may not formulate findings with regard to such discretionary decisions, the Audit Service expressed disagreement.

“If such decisions result in the loss of state revenue, the Audit Service has a constitutional right to investigate whether the organisation under scrutiny is exercising its power legally, and formulate findings,” it claimed.

“And if it identifies possible criminal offences, it has the right and obligation to inform the Attorney General’s office. What the Audit Service cannot do is cancel such decisions, which, indeed, can only be done by the Supreme Court.”

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