Cyprus Mail

Time to investigate past shady arms deals

Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos has an ambitious reform plan

THE DODGY dealings surrounding the purchase of the Agusta helicopters brings to mind the hysterical arms spending sprees from 1977 to 2003 which appear to be returning now.

Quite correctly, Alithia columnist Alecos Constantinides has raised this big issue in his articles again and suggested the auditor-general extend his investigations to that period, during which the big feast around the table of so-called defence spending took place. Those were the glory days of arms spending.

What took place during that period was in a way a “theft of the century” for the Republic, a theft which greatly contributed to the spectacular growth of public debt, which eventually led the state to bankruptcy in 2011. A huge big part of the reserves of the Social Insurance Fund (a total of €7.5 billion), which had been spent in those years by the state and was written off in 2013, had been wasted on the purchase of unnecessary military equipment that members of the military now say have been discarded after being maintained, at huge cost, for years.

Some official should at last come out and say how much money went on arms spending for all these years. The taxpayers, who have been paying for the purchases for 40 years now, have the right to know how many billions they have paid and how much they still owe for the folly known as “defence-boosting”.

I heard the ludicrous argument by deputies of the House defence committee that in the case of the Agusta choppers they could not be held responsible because – supposedly – they had no knowledge of the matter. Interior Minister Socratic Hasikos, who was the only member of the committee at the time to object to the purchase, quite rightly pointed out that deputies could not use such an excuse. They were obliged to know and if they did not they should have made sure they found out before making a decision.

This is another indication of the complete cluelessness of our demagogues. They become politicians, get elected to public positions, but are oblivious to the basic rules of politics. They do not know that a politician cannot cite ignorance in order to justify mistaken decisions. A politician has an obligation to know and if he does not he needs to learn about the things he is called to take decisions on. For instance, an ignoramus cannot take the post of finance minister and once he has made a complete mess claim that he knew nothing about economics.

Apart from this, it should be noted that in the period I mentioned above the defence committee deputies of the time never claimed ignorance on the issue of arms spending. On the contrary, they presented themselves as so knowledgeable they even visited the manufacturing countries in order to inspect the weapons. And the bills for their travel and accommodation were picked up by the arms suppliers – the people making the tenders – whose guests they were.

I remember in one case, when the Oerlikon guns were about to be bought, our deputies were the guests of the arms supplier at super-luxury chalets in the Swiss Alps. It was the time when the mindless purchase of guns had reached frightening proportions, not because they were useful but because there was a need to collect and share out the massive backhanders. A very large part of the backhanders, it is almost certain, ended up in the bank accounts of the political parties.

I recall the case of French company SOFMA, which acted as an agent during the George Vassiliou presidency when Andreas Aloneftis was defence minister; it was appointed as the Republic’s exclusive arms supplier. It bought weapons from manufacturers and then sold them to us at extortionate prices. In one case, Loucier – a manufacturer of mortars – sent its representative here to offer a quantity of mortars for CY£38 million, compared to the CY£65 million being asked for the same product by SOFMA, the agent.

What happened next was astonishing. Having been notified by the government, SOFMA sent a letter to the manufacturing company warning that if it did not withdraw its representative from Cyprus the purchase would be cancelled. In the end we paid CY£65 million including the backhanders. Senior officers that sat on the evaluation committees of the time ended up very wealthy but unfortunately neither the auditor-general nor the inland revenue department were interested in carrying out an investigation.

Even now, someone should find the courage to investigate this blatant plundering of public funds. In the meantime, the defence minister, who is preparing to hire 3,000 “professional soldiers” and to put in new orders for “arms systems”, should inform the taxpaying public how many billions we have paid until today on meaningless arms purchases.

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