Cyprus Mail

Witness in sewerage board trial gives details on kickbacks (Updated)

Savvas Vergas

By Angelos Anastasiou

Over €200,000 in kickbacks were paid by Envitec, a Greek company commissioned to upgrade and operate the waste-management plant of the Paphos Sewerage Board (SAPA), to former Paphos mayor Savvas Vergas and AKEL municipal councillor Giorgos Shailis, as well as the board’s executive director, Eftichios Malekides, director Christos Drakopoulos told the court on Thursday.

Shailis, along with former councillors Giorgos Michaelides of DISY, Efstathios Efstathiou of DIKO, Vasilios Vasiliou of AKEL, and EDEK deputy Fidias Sarikas – Vergas’ predecessor from 1997 to 2006 – are facing trial on charges of corruption, money laundering, and conspiracy to commit a felony.

Vergas and Malekides were sentenced to six years in jail in February 2015.

Envitec won a public tender procurement for the SAPA waste treatment plant for €15,720,133.00 in 2011.

Taking the stand as a prosecution witness, Drakopoulos said he was asked for money by Vergas “for Christmas” and he deposited the sum of €75,430 to the account of Sofia Apostolidou.

This person was later revealed to be Vergas’ wife, and Drakopoulos presented the bank receipt for the deposit.

He said the company always kept copies of receipts.

Drakopoulos then recounted how Malekides, Vergas, and Shailis, were paid more money.

Specifically, he testified that, on advice from Envitec subcontractor Loizos Iordanous so that “the project could operate unhindered,” he paid Malekides the sum of €30,000, whom he met at a pharmacy in downtown Paphos.

On two other occasions, Drakopoulos said, he gave Malekides €45,000 at the Electra hotel.

Meanwhile, near the end of 2013, discussion began for the settlement of claims for extra work performed by Envitec and delays for which SAPA was responsible.

The company’s director described a tete-a-tete meeting he had with Vergas at a Paphos hotel, in which he asked the mayor to arrange meetings with municipal councillors so that the claims could be approved.

Vergas then made the necessary phone calls and set up the meetings between Drakopoulos and two municipal councillors, one from AKEL and one from DISY, at the Amathus hotel, later that day.

When they arrived, Vergas introduced Drakopoulos and left them to discuss.

After the meeting, Vergas called Drakopoulos to say that AKEL’s councillor had asked him for money in exchange for approving the claims.

Vergas has said, according to the witness, that AKEL’s support on this issue would be beneficial, and asked Drakopoulos to come up with an appropriate amount, which Vergas would share with the councillor.

In December 2013, after two or three municipal council sessions, Envitec’s claims were approved, with the positive recommendation of AKEL’s councillor.

When the sum was approved, early in 2014, the councillor pressured Vergas, Drakopoulos said, for the money agreed with Envitec’s director.

Vergas advised Shailis to travel to Greece the next morning, meet Drakopoulos at the Athens Sofitel hotel, and get the money in person.

This was done twice, the witness said, and Shailis was given a total €55,000 in cash, for which he has the receipts.

Drakopoulos said he also has the receipt for the coffees he and Shailis had at the Sofitel.

He added that Envitec always contributed to the annual opera event, organised by the Paphos municipality, from 2008 to 2011, for a total €72,000.

State prosecutor Ninos Kekkos asked Drakopoulos to point to Shailis in the courtroom, and the witness identified him correctly.

The court was also handed copies of the witness’ curriculum vitae, as well as his phone records, which showed his telephone conversations with Shailis.

During cross-examination, Shailis’ lawyer maintained that during the two meetings in Athens, Drakopoulos had given two envelopes to the councilor but did not make any reference as to their contents, and the witness agreed.

The defendant’s lawyer then argued that Drakopoulos’ statements were simply the result of a transaction between him and the prosecutors, who agreed to not charge him in exchange for testimony implicating Vergas.

“That’s how you bought your freedom,” he told Drakopoulos, who denied he was lying to protect himself.

The lawyer argued that Shailis had never asked Drakopoulos for money, and the kickbacks were paid by the businessman to curry favour with Vergas.

The witness said he paid the bribes out of his own pocket, not to curry favour but out of fear for difficulties in the progress of the contract his company secured.

“The payments were the result of fear for the future of the project, not a transaction for illegal acts,” Drakopoulos said.

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