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Cyprus

Prisoners being ripped off at in-house shop

Products at the prison convenience store were sold between 20 per cent and 60 per cent higher than supermarkets, the auditor-general has found, with MPs now demanding a review and overhaul of the system.

House Watchdog Committee chairman, DISY MP Giorgos Georgiou said it was a distorted system “of high prices verging on profiteering and improper administration.”

Considering that the store is the prisoners’ only option, as well as their financial condition, which bordered poverty, the committee recommended a review of the system that was left to operate despite repeated warnings.

The committee asked for the system to be overhauled so that its operation would benefit prisoners only.

“The decision of the departments involved must be submitted to the committee by March 25 and put in place by the current administration,” Georgiou said.

Set up in 1964 by prison wardens, the store has been managed by them for decades and warnings about the goings-on started as far back as 1972.

According to the report, the store has amassed a reserve worth €609,000, which is administered by the wardens.

Two wardens and a number of inmates doing a stretch in the open prison work in the store.

Despite complaints, it appears that successive governments and prison authorities have turned a blind eye.

AKEL MP Irene Charalambidou, who reported the matter to the auditor, said the findings were damning.

“There was profiteering, the situation was highly distorted, and there was conflict of interest in the way the supply of products was structured,” she said.

The AKEL MP added that prisoners paid for the increased profit made by the wardens.

Wardens who managed the store were also paid extra though this practice ceased last year.

Charalambidou said she was not satisfied with the explanations given by the state, considering that the auditor-general warned that he would be sending the case to the attorney-general if the system was not overhauled.

In 1972, the finance ministry said the store should not be housed in public buildings and asked that they were abandoned within six months. The ministry also said that employment of prison staff at the store while on duty was unacceptable.

The finance ministry repeated this in 1983.

However, according to the auditor’s report, the justice ministry adopted the reservations and opposing view expressed by the prison governor at the time.

The report goes on to say that the prices are set by the warden working as a salesman. Basic items were marked up between 5 per cent and 10 per cent, the report said. The rest of the products yielded a profit between 10 per cent and 20 per cent.

No tenders were invited, the report said, with the job granted to suppliers of the warden’s choice.

Comparing the average prices from a sample check done by the audit service, it emerged that the store was 20 per cent more expensive than the supermarket used.

Only three of the 27 products used were priced lower at the prison store.

“For the rest of the products, sale prices at the store in question were significantly higher, in some cases up to 60 per cent,” the report said.

For example, Pepsi Cola 330ml was sold for €0.70 and €0.40 at the supermarket, POKKA coffee 240ml €1 vs €0.60, Ahmad tea (20 teabags) €2.40 vs €1.92, L/M red label cigarettes (22-pack) €4.10 vs €3.75, and100 straws €1.10 vs €0.50.

In 2014 the store paid rent amounting to €137 and €8.58 for water per month.

Despite installing a separate electricity meter, the store has never paid for electricity so far, even though it used six commercial refrigerators, four A/C units, and seven vending machines.

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