Cyprus Mail
CM Regular ColumnistOpinion

An unequal life in the fast lane

Andreas Themistocleous (Centre)

By George Koumoullis

IN A DEMOCRATIC country, all citizens are equal before the law. There is no different treatment for anyone because of background, social position, profession, income, gender, sexual orientation etc.

Unfortunately, in Cyprus we cannot boast such equal treatment. The main responsibility for this unflattering picture belongs to the attorney-general’s office, the presidents of the Republic and a group of deputies.

Tracking recent history, Demetris Christofias as president in April 2012 surprised the country by granting a presidential pardon to Andreas Themistocleous (who was not a deputy at the time) for four different criminal cases relating to traffic offences. In three of these cases he had been fined €250 and two penalty points on his driving licence, while for the fourth €150. An imprisonment order had also been issued against him on January 25, 2010.

A presidential pardon is normally given to someone approaching the end of a long sentence and who has shown good conduct or is in poor health or of advanced years. But nowhere in Europe, apart from Cyprus, are pardons given in the form of rusfeti (favours). But because the rusfeti culture has reigned supreme for decades, nobody was in the least bothered by the decision of the then president.

The depressing conclusion from this incident is that equality before the law is an unknown concept in our country. As Politis commented, on April 9, 2012, about the presidential pardon, “in every case, there is always a small window – as long as you are somebody and also have access to the high echelons to enjoy the best possible treatment.”

Despite his rescue from the long arm (not so long in this case) of the law, Themistocleous’ propensity to drive at excessive speeds continued after 2012. So, today, instead of dealing with the illegal, de facto partition of Cyprus, we are wasting valuable grey matter and using up our time on the illegal partition of the wind at speeds of almost 200kph by a deputy who, by virtue of his position, should have been championing the law, not undermining it. Much worse is that he does not seem to be haunted by any feeling of guilt.

This is why he was not too bothered when last week the Attorney-general Costas Clerides (at last!) applied to the Supreme Court requesting that Themistocleous’ parliamentary immunity be lifted. And why should he be worried, given that when he was not a deputy he was granted a pardon by a president that belonged to a party he strongly opposed, whereas now he is a deputy and belongs to the same party as the current president? The granting of a presidential pardon in due course is almost certain. Just as his notorious driving past was given an amnesty, his accumulated offences of the present will also be forgiven.

The attorney-general’s office has also been causing tremors in the justice system. The previous AG issued a nolle prosequi for his son in connection with a case of driving under the influence of alcohol, with no road tax and no MOT. Undoubtedly, it was a colossal scandal that may have passed almost unnoticed but dealt a heavy blow to the prestige of the institution of the AG. Faced with this vilification, we would have expected the current AG to have changed tack, ensuring that the law dealt ruthlessly with ALL offenders.

But what a disappointment. AKEL deputy Irini Charalambidou photographed two deputies smoking in an indoor space in the legislature building and they admitted doing so. (I will not mention her complaint to the police about being subject to abuse and indecent treatment by a colleague because the AG assures us that he cannot document such a case). But why is it not possible to prosecute the two deputies that were smoking? Their offence is unrelated to their parliamentary duties and is very serious as they were violating the laws that they themselves had made.

And what should we think about the AG’s stance with regard to the infamous picture of Evgenios Hamboullas with the ambelopoulia in a serving dish? Most law professionals insist there was prima facie evidence to justify bringing charges against the DISY deputy. Instead of Clerides immediately applying to the Supreme Court for the lifting of Hamboullas’ parliamentary immunity, he has delivered him to our judgement. The AG’s desire not to make the big parties unhappy has probably caused him to confront Hamlet’s dilemma, “to be or not be,” which in his case is transformed into “to ask for the lifting of immunity or not to ask?” These types of dilemma both depress and shock us at the same time.

In Greek mythology, Justice is represented by Goddess Themis who is blind. She is portrayed holding the scales in one hand and the sword, with which to impose punishment, in the other. The Cypriot Themis is not blind, but has a three-dimensional, high definition vision that would be the envy of the hawk-eye used in the Wimbledon tennis courts.

The dismal conclusion is that while Cypriot society is being rocked by the economic crisis, Justice is doubted by desperate, impoverished and outraged citizens. But I will repeat the self-evident: enforcing the law for everyone is necessary, more than ever before.

George Koumoullis is an economist and social scientist

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