THE chief executive of Atlas Pantou Constructions was being blackmailed by former Paphos Sewerage Board (SAPA) director Eftychios Malekkides into paying kickbacks under threat of payments being delayed, or even rejected, the company’s CEO Tony Toumazis told the court on Friday.
The testimony is similar to a long line of prosecution witnesses who have come forward with information about blackmail and kickbacks to build and operate the town’s sewerage system that is at least a decade behind schedule.
On Thursday, another construction executive, Loizos Iordanous, made similar allegations saying that his company bid for a contract for a SAPA project worth almost €25m in 2008 as a joint venture with Alexandrou Constructions, which it won. On two occasions, he recalled, Malekides visited him and received €100,000 each time, allegedly to share with the town’s disgraced mayor and other municipal councillors.
On Friday, Toumazis took the witness stand for the prosecution in the trial of former mayor – and sitting MP with socialists EDEK – Fidias Sarikas, former Paphos municipal councillors Giorgos Michaelides, Efstathios Efstathiou, and Vasos Vasiliou, and sitting councillor Giorgos Shailis, over bribes accepted by private contractors who won SAPA contracts.
Malekkides and former Paphos mayor Savvas Vergas are already serving six-year jail terms after confessing to having taken bribes.
In his testimony, Toumazis told the court that Malekkides had demanded 200,000 Cyprus pounds from the Zachariades-Atlas Pantou joint venture in order for SAPA’s board to settle their demands for payment.
Malekkides, the witness claimed, had told him that the amount was not intended for his own personal benefit only, but for other board members, too.
It was clear to him that they were being blackmailed, and he felt so strongly, Toumazis told the court.
He added that he discussed Malekkides’ demands with his partner, and they agreed to pay 100,000 pounds each so that the company could be paid for the work it had done.
Toumazis said he gave Malekkides his share personally in cash, but noted that he was in contact solely with Malekkides regarding this issue.
The only time he spoke with Vergas, he added, was at the last SAPA board meeting, in which the joint venture’s contract was settled, and the two never spoke about anything else.
The same was true of Sarikas, Toumazis said, whom he never met, and who had never asked for money.
Although he paid some money to buy tickets for a cultural event organised by the Paphos municipality, he said, he was never asked for donations to Paphos charities or sports clubs. In Thursday’s hearing, Iordanous said that Vergas had asked for €5,000 in favour of AEP football club, which the businessman duly coughed up.
However, Toumazis told the court, the money he gave Malekkides was not aimed at securing extra projects, nor at overpricing the contracts, but so that the company could be paid.
Signing the SAPA contract was a clear case of extortion, he said.
“They took advantage of the company’s need to be paid promptly, and unfortunately, this is what happens at local authorities and semi-state organisations,” he said.
“This is the culture.”
The joint venture had won two contracts, worth around 9 to 10 million pounds, for construction projects in the Paphos municipality from 1999 to 2004.
During cross-examination, Toumazis said that he paid Malekkides the 100,000 from his own funds, not the company’s.
Also, he said, as far as he knows, Malekkides had also received Zachariades’ share of the deal, meaning the rest of the bribery money.
Toumazis said that, although SAPA no longer owes Atlas Pantou any money, the SAPA contracts overall generated “losses of hundreds of thousands of euros” for the company.