The Larnaca District Court on Tuesday passed sentences ranging from 45 days to 22 months on seven former Paralimni municipal employees found guilty last month of pocketing tens of thousands of euros in takings for sunbeds and umbrellas, crimes carried out some four years ago.
Manolis Motis, aged 68, received 22 months for stealing €35,000, Costas Philippou, 41, 18 months for €20,900, Neophitos Neophitou, 44, 18 months for €21,412, Andreas Sophocles, 62, 18 months for €20,367, Christakis Pericli, 54, two and a half months for €100, Christakis Nicholaou, 59, 45 days for €15 and Christakis Tameno, 54, 45 days for €12.
At the last hearing, lawyers had requested time for their clients to make amends to the municipality for the financial damage suffered from the scam.
Reading the decision, presiding judge Thomas Thoma indicated that the criminal actions of the accused were not of the same magnitude or degree, with some of them taking advantage of their capacity to issue large numbers of computer-generated reprinted tickets for several months, appropriating money and deceiving both their employer – the Paralimni municipality – and the public.
He described the criminal activity of three of the accused as “isolated”, as they took small amounts, while another, who took the largest amount of money, faced the greatest penalty.
In handing the sentence, the court took into account as mitigating factors the clean criminal records of the accused, their honest former life, the compensation given to Paralimni municipality, their personal circumstances and health the problems faced by some, and the fact that two defendants were more than 60 years old.
Thoma said the adverse effects caused to them and their families by their imprisonment were taken into account, as was the fact that it has been about 4 years since the offenses were committed.
Also factored into the decision were the defendants’ feelings of injustice and inequality in that prosecution of one of the accused, namely Kostas Antoniou, who fled abroad and is still in Sweden, was stopped, and that no steps to find or extradite him had been taken.
He said that the defendants’ loss of employment due to their being convicted of abuse of power was not considered as a moderating factor, as some of the defence lawyers had asked.
The judge said that no one had brought up reporting in the daily press as having influenced the defendants’ right to receive a fair trial.
The case came to light from checks made to the software accounting system used to keep track of sunbed and umbrella rentals of the municipality after huge holes appeared in the expected takings.
The case was reported to police at the beginning of July 2012 and investigations kicked off immediately. It was found that in the period from May 21 to August 14 of that year the municipality was ripped off for a total of around €96,000.
The employees were able to fiddle with the electronic ticketing machines and pocket the takings. When a massive gap in revenue from the municipality-controlled beaches broke all records, the local council decided to take their suspicions to the police who examined electronic data stored in the machines, comparing them with the municipality’s computers. The examinations came up with a number of irregularities.
The most popular method used was the re-issuing of receipts. Tourists would pay for their sunbed and umbrella and the workers would reprint the previous customer’s receipt. Other methods used included handing out handwritten or blank receipts.
The suspects were caught after the municipality decided to alter its checking system, making the workers report on a monthly instead of a daily basis. This made it harder for workers to keep check of what they were doing and they started handing over different amounts to those registered on the machines’ software system.
Police, who also worked undercover and posed as beachgoers to investigate, told the court the suspects often didn’t even issue a receipt.
On arrest, police found a total €25,926.18 in cash on them, with one suspect found carrying around €10,000 in his pocket.
Among the witnesses called to testify at the trial was mayor of Paralimni Theodoros Pyrillis, whose mandate had just begun in 2012. The court described his testimony as sincere, objective and impartial.
Sentences would begin from June 29, the date on which the seven were found guilty and held at Nicosia Central Prisons pending sentencing.