By George Psyllides and Elias Hazou
TWO secret service (KYP) officers accused of taking bribes with the Dromolaxia land scandal will be sentenced on January 14, the Larnaca district court said on Thursday, but their lawyers argued that they acted on orders, including from senior members of the communist administration a decade ago.
Sergeants Costas Miamiliotis and Lefteris Mouskos will remain in custody at the central prisons until then.
Ahead of sentencing, their lawyers made the case that their clients comprised the last rung on a ladder of corruption that went as high up as the former boss of the secret service and the former head of the President’s office.
Miamiliotis and Mouskos pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiring to defraud the Republic of Cyprus, punishable by up to five years in prison, and abuse of power, punishable by a jail-term of up to two years.
They had been accused of taking bribes – €10,000 and €40,000, respectively – from businessman Nicos Lillis to prepare a false report that Turkish Cypriot Mustafa Mehmet Mustafa permanently resided in the areas under the Cyprus government’s control to enable a land transaction.
Selling properties located in the government-controlled areas owned by Turkish Cypriots is only allowed if the seller is a permanent resident – i.e., has lived in the government-controlled areas for at least six consecutive months.
The report enabled the Interior minister – in his capacity as guardian of Turkish Cypriot properties – to approve the sale of land in Dromolaxia, near Larnaca, owned by Mustafa to Lillis, so that the developer could build the notorious ‘Aero Center’, an office complex later to be bought at inflated prices by the Cyprus Telecommunications Authority’s pension fund.
The land was bought from Mustafa for less than €340,000, whereas its going market value was estimated at €1.8m.
The conspiracy earned five individuals prison terms following the ensuing trial, not including Lillis, who was cleared of all charges when he agreed to testify against his co-conspirators.
Addressing the court, the defendants’ lawyers cited a number of mitigating factors in pleading for leniency.
Both officers had no prior criminal records, had served with distinction for over two decades, and were facing financial distress as a result of their being suspended from duty since being charged.
Miamiliotis’ attorney George Papaioannou argued that from the evidence heard in court a great number of people were in favour of enabling the transfer of the Turkish Cypriot property.
Police investigators, he noted, had failed to adequately follow these leads, and as a result all the attention regarding the fraudulent transaction was focused on the two officers.
In particular, the lawyer named Vasos Georgiou, the head of the secret service at the time in question and also the head of the President’s office during the administration of Demetris Christofias.
According to Papaioannou, his client was merely following the instructions of his boss, Georgiou, who “looked favourably” upon the transfer of the property.
In addition, the KYP boss had displayed a keen interest in the case, constantly asking for updates on the status of the property.
The other name that came up was that of Neoclis Sylikiotis, who in his capacity as interior minister at the time acted as Guardian of Turkish Cypriot properties.
Mouskos’ defence attorney pointed out that the appropriation of the land was done illegally, in breach of regulations approved by the cabinet in 2004.
Under those regulations, in order for a Turkish Cypriot property to be eligible for appropriation, its owner must not reside in a Greek Cypriot property in the occupied areas.
A report submitted to Sylikiotis in 2008 noted that Mustafa and his son resided in the occupied village of Limnia. But it omitted to mention that the house Mustafa was living in belonged to a Greek Cypriot.
Despite the fact that several witnesses during the trial referred to Sylikiotis, police had never asked the former minister for a statement, nor were any of the other members of the cabinet quizzed on why they approved the property’s appropriation, on Sylikiotis’ recommendation.
Both defendants’ attorneys mentioned a senior interior ministry official, who prepared briefing memos for Sylikiotis favouring the property transfer.
But at the same time, another interior ministry officer had prepared a report stating that the application for the property transfer was “flawed.”
The final report recommending the property transfer was compiled by the interior ministry.
“So who was it that defrauded the Republic? Certainly not the defendants,” the lawyers argued.