Cyprus Mail
OpinionTales from the Coffeeshop

Tales from the Coffeeshop: The good news from piles of rubbish

Paphos mayor Phedonas Phedonos has accused parliament of cheap populism ahead of January’s presidential election

THIS establishment, putting aside its mean-spiritedness and bad faith briefly, would like to express its sincere admiration and respect for Paphos Mayor Phedonas Phedonos, who, since being elected 14 months ago, has been kicking against the corrupt with a persistence that is rarely seen in the regional centre for backhanders in which every loser with a little power is stealing from the taxpayer.

Phedonos might not have great charisma or a commanding presence, but the guy has balls and integrity, two qualities that his fellow-Paphites consider deplorable in their corrupt state-within-a-state and which are considered big handicaps for a successful political career by the rest of the country. That Paphites elected him is one of those mysteries that I could never explain.

A political outsider, who seized his opportunity to get elected after his mega-corrupt predecessor Vergas was finally caught, Phedonos after months of trying managed to get the authorities to investigate the scam at the Marathounda waste management plant which was reporting higher waste volumes than those it processed and thus over-charging municipalities.

Just a few months after his election, he realised that the Marathounda operator, the Greek firm Helector, had been ripping off the municipality big-time and went public. He was threatened with libel suits by the company, but, unfazed, he decided to stop paying the company so as to bring things to a head and force the authorities to act.

His scheme worked and 12 arrest warrants were issued last weekend including one against the Larnaca mayor and one against the imprisoned Vergas (paid in excess of 600 grand), after the Cyprus boss of Helector confirmed the Marathounda scam to the cops and gave them information about the bribery payments he made.

 

THANKS to Phedonos’ persistence, the authorities are now investigating the Koshi landfill rip-off, also run by Helector. Our establishment had written about the Koshi scam in September last year, explaining that it was awarded to Helector, in 2006 by Ethnarch Tassos for national reasons.

Its owner, Greek businessman Giorgos Bombolas, had taken part in the campaign against the Annan plan through his media outlets the newspaper Ethnos and Mega TV. As we had written last year on September 13: “The taxpayer will be paying Bombolas through the nose for waste management until 2020 because Tassos felt indebted to his news group for turning the Annan plan into toxic waste.”

Interestingly, the only person that has dared to mention Bombolas’ name in connection with this industrialised thieving from the taxpayer, apart from us, was Phedonos, who quite rightly pointed out there was no way €1.5 million could have been paid in bribes without the owner of the company knowing about it.

He made another very good point that everyone conveniently ignores. Contractors that pay off mayors, civil servants etc should also be punished because they are the root-cause of the problem. They pay off officials because the latter turn a blind eye to the contractors thieving. Helector may have given €1.5m in bribes but it made 10 times as much through the over-charging that nobody said anything about.

 

THIS has been the case for most big state contracts, such as road-building and the big construction companies. They keep the state machinery well-oiled so its well-rewarded employees will turn a blind eye to gross overcharging.

And of course nobody says anything because the big contractors distribute a share of their ill-gotten gains among the political parties as donations. This may explain why parties have been refusing to approve legislation that would oblige them to disclose the identities of those contributing to their funds.

Phedonos wondered why the bill that aimed to ban companies caught giving backhanders from bidding for state projects had not been approved yet. It was explained that the bill had not gone to the House. It will be approved by the Council of Ministers on Monday and sent to the House for approval, but no clever money will bet on it being passed before the May elections.

Parties need money for their election campaigns and will be disinclined to bite the hands that feed them.

 

POLITICIANS have been left out of the allegations relating to the landfill/waste management scams, but some might ask what the role of the AKEL former Interior Minister Neoclis Sylikiotis, now a MEP, had been? As comrade Tof’s super-minister, Sylikiotis had decided to move the responsibility for waste management policy from the ministry of agriculture and environment to interior so he could handle it.

Prez Nik, meanwhile, had been refusing to see Bombolas after being informed about the dodgy Koshi deal, but had received requests do so from an assortment of quarters, indicating the influence the 88-year-old Greek businessman wields.

One of his influential local supporters is Michalis Ignatiou, whose book that was to name everyone that had been bribed by the Yanks in order to support the Annan plan we are still waiting for. Ignatiou works for Bombolas as Mega TV’s Washington correspondent, and is always inclined to put in a good word for his boss with the government.

I wonder if the self-righteous Ignatiou, who writes fiery sermons against corruption and people who are not as patriotic as him every Sunday in Phil, will express any of his usual moral indignation about the Koshi scam.

 

SORRY if I have overdone it with the rubbish, especially on a day we should be rejoicing about our Prez’s triumph in Brussels over the hated Hun. Nik stuck to his Kalashnikovs and refused to agree to the opening of the any of the five accession chapters the Republic had been blocking, earning himself a much-deserved hero’s welcome.

In the end the EU will open a chapter that Kyproulla was not blocking in order to keep the Turks happy, while declaring that the preparations for the opening of more chapters will be speeded up, noting the reservations of some members. We suspect that other member-states were on Nik’s side; otherwise he would have had great difficulty holding the fort on his own.

If Nik had a sense of humour he would have agreed to the opening of the chapter on Judiciary and Fundamental Rights, which have all but been abolished by the Erdogan dictatorship.

Only Yiorkos Lillikas would have been disappointed with the outcome of the summit. The prez had obviously ignored his letter urging him to raise the issue of imposing sanctions on Turkey at the summit for its poor human rights record and its treatment of the Kurds. This was not an example of Lillikas’ sense of humour as he does not have one.

 

THE DEAL regarding the blocked chapters was based on the understanding that the two sides in Kyproulla would step up their efforts to reach a settlement over the next few months.

Nik had used the argument that if the Europeans wanted the talks to progress and for him to be able to sell a deal to the Greek Cypriots, they should accept his position about the chapters and they did. As he correctly argued, if any chapter was opened, he would have been crucified by the opposition in Kyproulla and had great difficulty proceeding with the talks.

In the end France (Lillikas’ second favourite foreign power after Russia) agreed to the opening of the chapter it was blocking so that something would be given to the Turks and Nik could return to Kyproulla as a victor free to focus on negotiating a settlement ASAP.

 

ON FEBRUARY 25, the Russia Insider website, an unabashed defender and apologist of President Putin, carried a long investigative report under the headline “Cyprus President Anastasiades in Fight for $2 Billion Russian Oil Fortune.”

It was well-researched piece referring to court cases in the US, UK and Cyprus with regard to a dispute between Russian businessmen over the sale of a 15 per cent share in the oilfields of the Tyumen Neftegas Company. Leonid Lebedev, a client of the Anastasiades law office is claiming he is owed $2 billion by two Russian businessmen for this transaction with case currently before a New York court.

The story is complicated as it involves front companies, trusts and litigation (anyone who wants to read more could go to http://russia-insider.com/en/cyprus-president-anastasiades-fight-2-billion-russian-oil-fortune/ri13043), but what is interesting is the prominent role played in all this by Phanos Philippou, a partner in the Anastasiades law firm.

Philippou was a director in several of these companies and, according to Russia Insider, “is under investigation in Cyprus and in New York for allegedly concealing assets, cash-flows and money laundering.” He is also accused of lying to a Cyprus court with regard to the citizenship status of Lebedev, who was a multi-term senator for the republic of Chuvashia in the Federation Council.

Lebedev had been granted Cypriot citizenship in 2011 thanks to his €11.5 million assets on the island, but allegedly concealed this fact because Russian law prevented foreign passport holders serving in parliament. Phillippou, allegedly, helped him cover up this. In April last year Lebedev quit the Senate and left Russia.

 

THE INTERESTING thing about this article is that although Philippou had been acting on behalf of Lebedev and was a shareholder/director in his companies, the website repeatedly brings up Prez Nik’s name as if it were trying to confer guilt by association.

The article mentions that Nik’s daughters, Ino and Elsa, are now partners in the law firm and has their picture with their mother and father. It also points out that until March 2013 when he became president, Nik was the managing partner; he was succeeded by Philippou.

Conspiracy theorists among our customers, reckon the report was used to apply pressure on Nik, directly by the Russian government which does not want him to sign a settlement of the Cyprus problem. They cite the fact that Russia Insider is a pro-Putin vehicle and that its report could have served as a warning to Nik that more revelations would follow, if he did not hold back on the Cyprus talks.

We Cypriots just love a conspiracy theory, but it is entirely possible Russia Insider was reporting a story about an oligarch who had fallen foul of the Putin regime and was in dispute with two businessmen that enjoyed the website’s support. And linking it all to the president of the Republic made the story much sexier, even if we all know that Nik has nothing to do with his law firm since becoming Prez of the Rep.

 

PARLIAMENTARY elections may still be two months away but the campaigning is well under way, with billboards of unknown candidates adorning our streets and highways. Some candidates are also using video to address voters, the most notable example being DISY’s Savvia Orphanides, whose cute superficiality is a definite vote-winner.

“I want to look at you in the eyes and not feel ashamed,” she declares.

Meanwhile DIKO had a radio jingle inviting people to attend this morning’s gathering at the international conference centre during which its 56 candidates would be presented. Might be a fun outing, being among hundreds of Dikheads, if you have nothing else to do.

If we had an advertising standards authority DIKO’s ad would have been taken off the air because of the lies it tells. It starts thus: “Off we go. For development and jobs for everyone. … for the continuation of the Cyprus Republic, for liberation and the settlement we want.”

Jobs for everyone, really? Is the party planning on hiring everyone, regardless of age, in the army that will bring the liberation it is promising?

 

SPEAKING of jobs, angry youths of Kyproulla are threatening not vote in May’s parliamentary elections. According to a recent poll, 77 per cent of 18- to 35-year-olds said they did not plan to vote because they did not trust politicians. A quarter of these did not trust politicians and the parties because they did not help them find work.

What they meant is they did not help them find work in the state sector. State bankruptcy and the recession have had a negative effect on rusfeti. But they could vote for DIKO which is promising jobs for everyone – which is coded language for bringing back rusfeti.

 

IT WAS a bit unfortunate that the Nicosia district court issued its decision about Sunday shopping two months before the elections, thus reminding voters what incompetents most deputies are. Deputies took all type of unconstitutional measures in order to keep shops closed on Sundays, but the result was quite the opposite. According to the court ruling, now that the labour minister has been deprived of the power to issue decrees on opening hours (it was abolished by the legislature) shops can stay open 24 hours a day 365 days a week.

 

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