Police are on Thursday expected to file a criminal case in court in connection with an overcharging and bribery affair involving the landfills at Marathounda, Paphos and Koshi, Larnaca, both operated by Helector.
Still sought by police on the strength of European arrest warrants are Greek construction mogul Leonidas Bobolas, the major shareholder in Helector, and Theofanis Lolos, also a Greek national, who was director of ENVIROPLANT, a firm assigned by the interior ministry to oversee the waste management projects in both Koshi and Marathounda.
Reports said that both current and former members of Helector have confirmed to police that no backhanders were paid to officials in Cyprus without Bobolas’ knowledge and at his express behest.
It is understood that, though more arrests could be on the cards – including those of Bobolas and Lolos – the case will be filed regardless, with additional suspects to be later added to the charge sheet.
So far 11 persons are in police custody, including Larnaca mayor Andreas Louroudjiatis. Arrested and released after serving remand orders were Helector’s current director Ioannis Kokotsis, his secretary Skevi Protopapa, Pantelitsa Mappoura who worked as Helector’s accounts chief and Michalis Michail who in 2010 was appointed director of the Paphos waste management board.
Former Paphos mayor Savvas Vergas is being detained in connection with the case. Vergas, serving a six-year prison sentence in connection with the Paphos sewerage board (SAPA) scandal, has reportedly admitted to receiving kickbacks.
Also being detained and questioned is Eftychios Malekkides, the former head of SAPA, who is also serving a six-year prison sentence in connection with the sewerage scandal.
Vergas alleges that it was Malekkides who floated the idea to ask for bribes from the Paphos waste management operation, specifically a five per cent cut on payments made by the state to Helector.
In the meantime, reports said the cabinet may on Wednesday approve a bill banning companies that have bribed officials from bidding for new contracts.
But as late as Tuesday afternoon this could not be confirmed. The government spokesman could not be reached for comment.
Paphos mayor Phedonas Phedonos, who was instrumental in calling attention to the waste management scandal, suspects the government bill blacklisting companies may be being intentionally delayed until parliament dissolves for the legislative elections in May.
Asked by the Cyprus Mail whether the cabinet would in fact look at the bill on Wednesday, Phedonos offered: “God knows.”
The timing of the bill’s passage is significant because the legislation is not designed to be retroactive.
Therefore, surmises Phedonos, should the blacklisting law pass after the second and ongoing SAPA trial concludes, the contractors – including major names in the local construction business – implicated in that case would be left unscathed.
What’s more, the mayor alleges there are behind-the-scenes efforts to render the bill toothless.
As it was initially drafted, the legislation stipulated that the final say on whether companies are excluded from public procurement tenders should rest with the Central Committee on Changes and Claims, a body chaired by the state Treasurer. The Treasury is in charge of monitoring public procurement contracts.
Under the current set-up, independent officials like the attorney-general and the auditor-general participate in sessions of the Central Committee on Changes and Claims.
After earlier having reviewed the draft bill, the cabinet sent it back to the Treasury for amendments, and Phedonos claims that certain quarters interfered for this to occur.
According to the mayor, the main point of contention now is whether the body with the final say on blacklisting companies will be a central organ, or local authorities such as municipalities.
The latest trend, from what Phedonos hears, is to have a central body appointed by and directly answerable to the President.
“In other words, political appointees. This is not good,” the mayor commented.
In addition, Cyprus must pass the relevant law by end-April this year to harmonise with an EU directive on public procurements issued back in 2014.
Cyprus is the only EU member that has not integrated this EU directive in its domestic law, said Phedonos.
Phedonos told the Mail that in his estimation the ongoing police investigation should be tracking more angles, leading to additional arrests.
“We are talking about a couple of former senior government officials, two law firms, and a political party,” he said, but declined to elaborate.
He estimates that total kickbacks to officials to look the other way as Helector overcharged for managing waste amount to €4 million since the contract was awarded.