By Philip Mark
Two customs officers were among six people who were jailed or fined by the Larnaca District Court on Friday for up to 24 months for their part in the illegal importation of tobacco which cost the state hundreds of thousands of euros in lost duties.
In her decision, Judge Natalie Talaridou said the case which began to be heard in January 2010 had to be interrupted three times for various reasons including the health of one of the accused and the fact that another fled to Romania only to return once the attorney-general of the Republic summoned him as a prosecution witness.
The tobacco seized was smuggled mainly through Larnaca airport in 2007 and 2008 with the help of the corrupt customs officers after being declared as furniture, clothing or other products which did not exist.
The case came to light following a tip-off received by the Drug Squad that a container arriving on a Cyprus Airways flight was loaded with drugs. Instead of drugs the contents, which were declared as furniture, were in fact 25kg of cigarettes in cartons.
Talaridou, in her decision said the customs officers obscured the illegalities, reaping huge economic benefits and cheating the Republic of Cyprus out of €630,000 by the illegal importation of duty-free tobacco products, cigars and cigarettes, at various dates in 2008.
In passing the sentences she said the corrupt officials had to be punished in an exemplary way as without them the illegal enterprise could not have been set up.
Customs Officers George Garivandinos, 62 and Costas Zaloumis, 60, received sentences of 20 months imprisonment each. Panayiotis Avraam, 42, a customs clearing agent received a 24-month sentence while Vashe Zatogian, 40, a cigar shop owner was sentenced to 10 months. Civil servant Christakis Savva, 48, received eight months for his part and coffeshop owner Andreas Teratsias was fined €2,800.