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Cyprus

AKEL: party targeted over ‘mere €25,000 donation’ (Updated)

AKEL leader Andros Kyprianou

In what increasingly looked like a damage-control exercise, main opposition AKEL on Monday strived to dispel the notion that it got a €25,000 kickback to sign off on a contract for a public project back in 2010, sticking to their guns that the cash ended up in party coffers as a donation, not a sweetener.
Arguing that his party was being targeted, AKEL spokesman Giorgos Loucaides said that whereas the whole waste management scandal involves millions spread out in bribes, certain quarters are having a conniption fit over “a mere €25,000” given to AKEL in the form of a donation.
Theofanis Lolos, the director of engineering consultants Enviroplan, and a person of interest in the ongoing probe into the waste management affair, earlier told police that he handed €25,000 to AKEL in order to smooth over a contract eventually awarded to Enviroplan in 2010.
Currently in custody, Lolos alleges the money was paid through a middleman to AKEL member Venizelos Zanettos, who is serving a jail sentence in connection with the Dromolaxia real estate scandal.
Zanettos and the alleged middleman, 80-year-old Andreas Kokkinidis, were both questioned during the weekend. Kokkinidis, who appears to have confirmed the money transfer, was later released without being charged.
Zanettos refused to answer questions and was returned to the central prisons.
AKEL leader Andros Kyprianou meantime revealed that on Monday morning he personally visited Zanettos at prison.
He told CyBC that Zanettos is prepared to give police a statement once he is able to recall the details of the case.
“He doesn’t recall many things, at this point he is trying to remember, which is why he declined to answer police questions on the advice of his lawyer,” Kyprianou said of Zanettos.
However, according to what Kyprianou told the state broadcaster, Zanettos did seem to recall that the events in question date back to the May 2010 period.
In his deposition to police, Lolos alleged that whereas a public contract had been awarded to a consortium comprising his own company Enviroplan SA and Kocks Consult Gmbh, the then AKEL government was stalling on the actual signing of the contract.
Following an interior ministry tender, a contract was awarded to the consortium for preparing the tender specifications for, as well as for monitoring the operation of, a proposed integrated solid waste management facility for Limassol district.
Once the €25,000 was paid to AKEL, Lolos claims, the contract was finally signed on August 10, 2010.
Enviroplan is the same company which since the early 2000s won several tenders, including a contract to advise the government on the specifications for waste management facilities in Marathouda, Paphos, and Koshi, Larnaca.
It’s suspected that Enviroplan tailored those specifications to suit the bid made by Helector, a Greek outfit which eventually won the contracts to build and operate the two landfills.
It has since emerged that Helector was grossly overcharging municipalities – and ultimately the taxpayer – by reporting higher waste volumes while officials looked the other way in return for skimming off the top.
So far 12 persons have been indicted on corruption and bribery charges and are facing trial.
Also on Monday, Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides confirmed that his office and the interior ministry have raised the issue of whether the 2010 Limassol contract should now be declared null and void, based on what Lolos has told authorities.
Michaelides said he and Interior Minister Socrates Hasikos discussed the issue two to three weeks ago, when a European arrest warrant for Lolos had already been issued.
However they both agreed to wait until Lolos was in police custody before proceeding further.
But on the back of Lolos’ statements over the past few days, they will now be asking the attorney-general’s office for a legal opinion as to whether the 2010 Limassol contract with Enviroplan may be voided.
The same was confirmed by the interior ministry, which in a statement said it has asked the attorney-general to rule on the matter as swiftly as possible in order that the contract may be terminated “immediately.”
In a parallel development, judicial authorities in Greece began hearing a request by Cypriot police to extradite Leonidas Bobolas, a Greek national and the CEO of Helector.
Bobolas has challenged the extradition, arguing that if he has committed any offences – which he denies – these were committed in Greece, not Cyprus.
Appearing before an Athens magistrate on Monday, Bobolas denied any wrongdoing and suggested that authorities should instead scrutinise his subordinates.
“This group of companies [Ellaktor] is my whole life. It employs some 10,000 people,” the businessman was quoted as saying.
Ellaktor is a conglomerate, of which Helector is a subsidiary. Bobolas is managing director of Ellaktor and has a 15 per cent stake in the group.
“I rely on my associates. The directors of the companies belonging to the group have full autonomy to act. How could I possibly direct 55 companies to pay kickbacks of €10,000? If these things happened, they [Bobolas’ associates] did it on their own,” Bobolas stated.
The magistrate decided to adjourn the extradition hearing and reconvene on May 6 for a decision, noting that the Cypriot extradition request as filed was incomplete.
Cypriot judicial authorities now need to supply additional information, citing in detail the time and location of each of the offences attributed to Bobolas. They have been given 15 days to communicate this information to Athens.
Interviewed previously by Cypriot police, Helector executives have alleged that no bribes were handed out without Bobolas’ express knowledge and instructions.
In particular, Ioannis Kokotsis, the current director of Helector, described at great length how he always sought the green light from Bobolas whenever Larnaca mayor Andreas Louroudjiatis – currently facing charges – asked for a payoff in exchange for extending Helector’s contract for the Koshi landfill.
Helector officers have agreed to provide information in exchange for turning state’s witness.
Authorities were not ruling out further arrests in connection with the landfills investigation.

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