Cyprus Mail

Vergas pays back €0.5m in kickbacks

Incarcerated former Paphos mayor Savvas Vergas received around €0.5m in kickbacks from sewerage board (SAPA) project contractors, which he has paid back to the state, he told the court from the witness stand on Tuesday.

Vergas turned prosecution witness following a plea bargain, in exchange for special protection while serving a six-year prison term.

In Tuesday’s hearing, Vergas recounted receiving approximately €0.5 million from various contractors.

He said he received €100,000 from Medcon-GCC Consortium executive director Andreas Chimarrides, €237,000 from Envitec’s director Christos Drakopoulos, €60,000 from Nemesis, and €100,000 from the Loizos Iordanous & CPT consortium.

Vergas said he deposited €85,000 of the money received from Drakopoulos to the account of his wife, Sofia, who was also arrested in connection with the case but released after Vergas said she had nothing to do with it and confessed.

According to the former mayor, he took the money because he needed €200,000 to buy an apartment for his children who were about to start undergraduate studies in Salonica, Greece.

The reason he decided to come clean, he said, was so that he could clear his conscience.

Vergas, who denied taking bribes immediately following his arrest in November 2014 pulled a U-turn once his wife was arrested three weeks later.

Visibly distraught, Vergas said he had felt insecure as soon as he was arrested, realising he “couldn’t get away with it”.

He also claimed defendant Paphos municipal councillor Giorgos Shailis took €55,000 from Drakopoulos, which the two shared.

Vergas said he has not repaid his loans, nor renovated his house, and had been pressured by banks. As a result, he said, he had asked his parents, as well as his unmarried uncle, for financial support.

Responding to questions from state prosecutor Ninos Kekkos, Vergas said he had maintained friendly family relations with all defendants and that telling the truth in court put him in a very difficult position.

In light of the witness’ state, the court asked him to have some water in order to regain his composure.

Responding to critics of the special arrangement he secured in exchange for his confession, by which he is held outside the Central Prisons, Vergas said they are welcome to come and see the conditions of his incarceration for themselves.

The former mayor said Shailis visited him while he was held in a police-station cell and asked him to “keep his mouth shut” regarding the money Drakopoulos gave them, but Vergas declined.

Vergas also claimed that in a meeting at the Amathus hotel, Shailis accepted the kickbacks, while Polydoros Polydorou, a DISY municipal councillor, did not.

Recounting how he was introduced to accepting bribes, Vergas said it all started when he was first elected mayor in 2006, when SAPA director Eftychios Malekkides approached him, proposing that they set up a “team” that would offer to cut through the red-tape for contractors who win SAPA contracts, at the right price.

Vergas said he didn’t like the idea of setting up such a team, but went along after being told by Malekkides that a similar team had been operating during the previous municipal council’s term.

The goal, Malekkides had explained to Vergas, was for the municipal council to approve extra work to the contractors, so that the inflated bill could accommodate the cost of the kickbacks.

After Malekkides took the lead on the first few transactions, Vergas testified, he too became comfortable enough to ask contractors for money himself.

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.

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