Remarks made earlier this month, in which Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou expressed hope for convictions within 2016 in court cases regarding the economy’s collapse, were misconstrued, he said on Tuesday, noting that he never sought to interfere or influence judicial proceedings.
Nicolaou had been accused of doing so by the defendants in the ongoing Bank of Cyprus trial, in which five former top officials, and the lender itself, are accused of having conspired to mislead investors with regard to the bank’s true capital adequacy.
On Monday, the five defendants’ lawyers sent a letter to Attorney-general Costas Clerides, in which they referred to two interviews Nicolaou gave – one to the Cyprus News Agency on February 3, and another to daily Phileleftheros, on February 15.
In them, the lawyers argued, Nicolaou tried to influence the outcome of judicial proceedings and may have shown contempt of the court that is hearing the Bank of Cyprus case.
“Due to its seriousness, we expect the examination of this matter as soon as possible, in order to protect our clients’ rights, and the stature of justice in general,” the letter said.
In the CNA interview, Nicolaou had said that “it is not impossible to have convictions within 2016” and that the punishment of those responsible for the economic collapse “is not a demand of the public only, but of the government too”.
In the Phileleftheros interview, he stated that “the Legal Service believed that there is adequate evidence to secure a conviction of the accused”, and repeated that “it is expected that these cases will be concluded within 2016 with a view to convicting”.
In response, Nicolaou said he regretted the fact that his remarks had been misinterpreted.
“The sole aim of my comments was to inform the public that investigations are at an advanced stage,” he said.
“Under no circumstances did I want, or seek, to interfere with any judicial proceedings. My remarks were of general nature and did not relate to any particular case, ongoing or not. I express my full respect to the rights of any defendants or suspects, who are covered by the principle of presumption of innocence, which I also respect.”
The justice minister repeated his regret for the fact that his remarks were taken to mean anything other than what he explained, and said that he plans to send a letter to the AG, which he will copy to the lawyers who complained.