By Elias Hazou
The CEO of a construction company testified in court on Wednesday that he had greased politicians and public officials to the tune of some €500,000 in order to land two contracts with the Sewerage Board of Paphos (SAPA).
Andreas Chimarides, CEO of Medcon, said he paid €100,000 each to former Paphos mayor Savvas Vergas and head of SAPA Eftychios Malekkides, and €50,000 each to former DISY municipal councillor Giorgos Michaelides and to Efstathios Efstathiou, a former DIKO municipal councillor and doctor.
Testifying for the prosecution, the CEO recounted how he met and handed the money to the accused on separate occasions and at different venues, including at Paphos town hall, the SAPA offices, Efstathiou’s private medical practice and Malekkides’ private residence in Yeroskipou.
But the €300,000 ‘fee’ for the four agreed at one meeting was not the end of the story.
On another occasion, Vergas also asked €50,000 as a donation for AEP, a Paphos football club. In addition, Vergas asked Chimarides – and got – €10,000 to fund concerts by two popular Greek musical artists – Yiannis Ploutarchos and Sakis Rouvas.
Chimarides said he also forked out cash for an opera performance. Most of the time, Vergas did not issue him a receipt.
Vergas did not stop there. In another instance, the now-disgraced former mayor wanted €30,000 for his sister-in-law, who was having health issues. Chimarides told the court he suspected at the time that Vergas was pocketing the cash.
Beyond that, Vergas asked for €45,000, supposedly to donate to a charitable institution in Greece. Again Chimarides obliged, but got no receipt.
The witness claimed that Vergas and Malekkides were systematically blackmailing him.
According to Chimarides, at one point a dispute arose between himself and Vergas and Malekkides over construction works that were ongoing in Yeroskipou.
For these works, his company wanted to be reimbursed to the tune of 750,000 Cypriot pounds (€1.275m). In the end, they settled on 680,000 Cypriot pounds.
So intense was the disagreement with Vergas and Malekkides, Chimarides said, that on one occasion he felt threatened.
Specifically, during a heated discussion, Vergas asked Chimarides where he lived. According to Chimarides, he perceived this question as a veiled threat.
During cross-examination, Michaelides’ defence attorney put it to the witness that he intended to use the €300,000 he had obtained from his company for the four – Vergas, Malekkides, Michaelides and Efstathiou – to rebuild a residence in England for his [Chimarides’] own benefit.
Chimarides rejected the imputation.
Efstathiou’s lawyer sought to discredit Chimarides, noting that bribing officials is a crime and that, knowing this, Chimarides had cut a deal with police to testify for the prosecution in order to save his own skin.
The attorney also cast doubt on whether Chimarides actually visited Efstathiou’s office where he alleges to have paid off the former municipal councillor.
Responding to another question, Chimarides conceded that Esftathiou’s name was not mentioned during the meeting he had with Vergas and Malekkides, where the ‘fee’ for the four was apparently set at €300,000.
On trial are Michaelides, Efstathiou, EDEK MP and former Paphos mayor Fidias Sarikas, AKEL municipal councillor Yiorgos Shailis and former municipal councillor Vasos Vasiliou.
All five face charges of bribery, corruption, and conspiracy. The defendants have posted bond and have been placed on a stop list.
The next hearings in the trial have been scheduled for January 19 and January 28.
Efstathiou, 65, was named by Vergas in connection with the sewerage board scandal.
In February last year, Vergas and Malekkides were each sentenced to six years in jail, having been found guilty of receiving bribes, and money laundering.
The pair had been receiving kickbacks from construction companies in return for contracts.
The scam saddled the municipality, and subsequently the taxpayer, with extra costs due to often-unnecessary additional work on the sewerage project. The project came in some €40m over budget.