The government decided on Tuesday to end its dealings with Helector, the company operating the landfill at Koshi, Larnaca, as police broadened their probe into an over-charging scam involving alleged kickbacks to officials.
Following a meeting held at the Attorney-general’s office – involving Attorney-general (AG) Costas Clerides, Interior Minister Socrates Hasikos, Agriculture Minister Nicos Kouyialis and Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides – Hasikos announced a decision not to extend the contract for Helector, the company at the centre of the investigation.
The contract for operating the Koshi landfill was due to be renewed for another three years. This was no longer an option, Hasikos said.
Moreover, his ministry is proposing that the state step in and temporarily take over the management of the landfill until a new contract was signed. The move would need the green light from the AG.
Should the state take over, the waste management charges to the residents of the Larnaca and Famagusta districts – which the Koshi landfill caters to – would go down, Hasikos pledged.
Meanwhile police spokesman Andreas Angelides confirmed that authorities have set the ball rolling on activating European arrest warrants for three persons still wanted in connection with the scandal.
The three persons sought are currently believed to be in Greece, he added.
The three are Helector’s former director Demetris Yiannakopoulos, the company’s CEO Athanasios Katris, and the company’s engineer Ιmad Baqleh.
In particular, Yiannakopoulos is said to be a key player in helping unravel the web of kickbacks involving Paphos and Larnaca municipal authorities, but also interior ministry officers.
As heard in court, Helector was reporting higher waste volumes resulting in higher charges for local authorities and consumers for the Marathounda waste management plant in Paphos. The initial arrests for Marathounda led to a parallel full-blown investigation into the Koshi landfill. Both waste management contracts had been awarded to Helector.
Due to the widening scope of the probe, police are setting up a second investigating team dealing exclusively with the Koshi contract, awarded back in 2006.
The information provided to police by Helector’s current director, Ioannis Kokotsis, among those in custody, led to the issuing of 12 new arrest warrants on Saturday, including Larnaca mayor Andreas Louroudjiatis.
As reported by local media, Kokotsis kept records of the backhanders in a safety deposit box in Athens. The records – which are now in the hands of Cypriot police – reportedly comprise a treasure trove of information, including names, dates and cash amounts.
Kokotsis has also fingered his predecessor at the company, Yiannakopoulos, as the man who put the scheme together.
According to daily Politis, Kokotsis’ archive lists former Paphos mayor Savvas Vergas – already convicted in the Paphos sewerage board scandal – as the top ‘earner’, having received €646,000 in bribes from Helector between 2009 and 2014.
Vergas is said to be refusing to cooperate with authorities.
Next was Demetris Patsalides, the financial controller of Paphos municipality who is currently on suspension in connection with a different probe and is one of the persons in police custody in connection with the Marathounda case. The kickbacks to Patsalides came to €217,000, the paper reported.
Louroudjiatis’ take amounted to €138,000. Politis said that whereas Louroudjiatis was demanding a 0.5 per cent cut, the more ‘experienced’ Vergas was asking for 8 per cent.
Police have meanwhile requested access to all the suspects’ bank accounts, and were expected to have this information by week’s end.
Eight persons are currently being detained by police for questioning, each having been remanded in custody for eight days on Sunday. Some of the charges they face include conspiracy to commit a felony, conspiracy to commit an indictable offence, conspiracy to defraud, extortion, abuse of power, theft, theft by a public servant, corruption, forgery, bribery of a public official, and concealing ill-gotten gains.
Also on Tuesday, Hasikos revealed he asked Louroudjiatis to abstain from his duties until the matter is cleared up.
In his capacity as mayor, Louroudjiatis also chairs the board responsible for the management of the Koshi landfill.
In his letter to Louroudjiatis, Hasikos urged the Larnaca mayor to temporarily excuse himself from his duties given the possible conflict of interest.
Hasikos cited the need to safeguard the public interest, stressing that his request to Louroudjiatis in no way violates the mayor’s presumption of innocence.
In a statement later in the day, Louroudjiatis said he would abstain from his duties as mayor “until such time as the investigation is completed and the case resolved.”
According to his bio, Louroudjiatis has in the past held numerous positions, including vice-chairman at the state-run power company, member of the board of directors of now-defunct Laiki Bank. He also sat on the board of a number of companies, including CTC PLC, Hermes PLC and FW Woolworth PLC.
In 2001 Louroudjiatis earned a seat on the Larnaca municipal council, and was elected mayor in 2012.