The pension forfeiture of a convicted former Cypriot civil servant did not constitute a violation to his right to property, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on Tuesday.
In 2005 Tassos Philippou, formerly an employee at the Department of Lands and Surveys, was found guilty of obtaining the amount of 225,643.67 Cyprus pounds (approximately €390,000) by false pretences, issuing false documents, forging cheques, abuse of office and concealment.
He was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment.
Following the conviction after a plea-bargain and having received the Attorney-general’s advisory opinion that the offences committed involved dishonesty or moral turpitude, the Public Service Commission (PSC) instituted disciplinary proceedings against Philippou.
On June 13, 2005 the PSC decided to dismiss him, citing the gravity of his offences. And in accordance with the Public Service Law, Philippou’s public service retirement benefits (retirement lump sum and a monthly pension) were forfeited.
His wife received a widow’s pension, which amounted to €15,600 per year.
In the case he brought against Cyprus before the ECHR, lodged in November 2010, Philippou claimed he had been a victim of discrimination on the basis of his marital status, in breach of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to property.
The Protocol provides that “Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law.”
But it adds that the “preceding provisions shall not, however, in any way impair the right of a state to enforce such laws at it deems necessary to control the use of property in accordance with the general interest or to secure the payment of taxes or other contributions or penalties.”
In its judgment, the ECHR said that it did not consider it “inherently unreasonable for provision to be made for reduction or even total forfeiture of pensions in suitable cases.
“In practice… that did not leave the applicant without any means of subsistence.” Whereas Philippou lost his retirement benefits, he remained eligible to receive, and did receive from August 2012, a social security pension from the Social Insurance Fund to which he and his employer had contributed.
The ECHR said moreover that Philippou did not claim “that during the seven-year period between his dismissal and the date when he became eligible and started to receive a social security pension, he was unable to benefit for any reason from the pension paid to his wife and family.
“Following that, he began to receive his social security pension in full; his public service retirement pension would in any event have been set off against the amount of the social security pension. In addition his wife continued and continues to receive a part of the widow’s pension.”
Having weighed the seriousness of the offences committed against the effect of the disciplinary measures, the court found that Philippou “was not made to bear an individual and excessive burden.”