By Elias Hazou
Two AKEL MPs who sat on the fundraising committee for their party’s candidate in the 2008 presidential elections sought on Thursday to dispel any notion of wrongdoing or cover-up on their part in the Focus affair.
According to the findings of a police – but not criminal – probe into election-campaign funds raised for the 2008 presidential race, one of the members of the AKEL fundraising committee claimed he was told at one of the committee sessions that former Laiki Bank strongman Andreas Vgenopoulos offered to pay “over 2 million Cyprus pounds” to the campaign.
The above claim was made by Miltiades Neophytou, a known contractor.
The probe’s findings, announced a day earlier by Attorney-general (AG) Costas Clerides, indicated that AKEL appears to have received around €880,000 from Focus Maritime Corporation, a Greek company thought to be linked to Vgenopoulos.
Ruling DISY got €600,000 from cash transfers from the same company, with the funds appearing to have been used by the two biggest parties to fly in voters ahead of the 2008 presidential elections.
On the back of Miltiades’ statement, the AG asked for statements to be taken from two AKEL MPs who were on the party’s fundraising committee at the time in question.
Both MPs refused to give a statement and answer any questions, whether orally or in writing.
“Instead, they each handed investigators a written statement, in which they deny that Vgenopoulos or Focus were ever mentioned at committee meetings,” the AG said reading out the investigation’s key findings.
The deputies in question, Clerides noted, had every right to decline to answer questions, since this was not a criminal investigation and they were not suspected of any wrongdoing.
The two MPs have since been identified as Stavros Evagorou and Christakis Tziovani. The two released a joint statement on Thursday, stressing they had nothing to hide and that they had cooperated with authorities though they were not obligated to do so.
“Although from the outset it was clear that this was not a criminal procedure, and without hiding behind our parliamentary immunity, not only did we not refuse, but on the contrary we voluntarily supplied a written and signed statement.
“In other words, we acted in the same way as other MPs have in similar cases. In this statement [to the police] we categorically denied that at the meeting alluded to by Mr Miltiades Neophytou, any reference was made to either Mr Vgenopoulos or to the company Focus.”
But daily Politis, which has tracked the story since late 2013, said it rang suspicious that Evagorou and Tziovani had elected to ‘play it safe’ rather than agree to give depositions to police.
The paper – which has been sued by AKEL for its coverage of the affair – said it has learned that AKEL MP Aristos Damianou, who legally represented the two MPs, reacted strongly when police investigators sought to interview them. According to the daily, Damianou tried to get in touch with the police chief and the attorney-general to put a stop to this.
Politis also insisted that the chief of police had come under pressure from AKEL not to dig too deeply.
Responding, police chief Zacharias Chrysostomou on Thursday issued a written statement denying that he was pressured by AKEL leader Andros Kyprianou on the Focus case or any other case.
The daily however promised to unveil new details in its upcoming Friday edition demonstrating that the probe had been politically interfered with.
Meanwhile fending off criticism of a whitewash, the AG said on Thursday that the broader investigation into the money trail is not over.
“We will still be looking at any other clues, such as whether the cash involved any trade-offs and so on,” Clerides told the state broadcaster.
Rumours of money funnelled to the two parties by Focus – with the implication that Vgenopoulos was behind the donations to secure favourable treatment from the political establishment – have been circulating since December 2013. The Greek financier is widely held responsible for the collapse of the island’s banking system.