Amid calls for his resignation, Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou announced on Monday a criminal inquest into the police’s overall handling of intelligence relating to a contract killing.
In a statement, Nicolaou said investigators would be looking into possible corruption and dereliction of duty by members of the police force concerning the debacle over the June 23 killing of businessman Phanos Kalopsidiotis in Ayia Napa.
“Relaying the government’s determination to clear up every aspect of the affair…the attorney-general deems it necessary to appoint criminal investigators to probe all the matters being raised and shall appoint them on the basis of a specific remit,” the statement read.
It followed a meeting held earlier between Nicolaou, the attorney-general and the police chief.
A storm has been brewing since the weekend after a local daily reported a monumental bungle where police here – having being tipped off by the Interpol office in Belgrade, Serbia, about a planned murder in Cyprus – placed a call to the very gang believed to be behind the plot, thus alerting them to the fact that authorities were onto them.
Reportedly this call from Cyprus had been monitored by the Serbian police who then contacted authorities here to inform them that the presumed mastermind had received a call from a Cypriot number – which later proved to be that of Interpol Nicosia.
The hit on Kalopsidiotis was reportedly being planned since March, but is said to have been put on hold once criminal elements in Serbia got wind of police surveillance.
The police here have admitted that an erroneous call was made.
The contract killing is believed to have been masterminded in Serbia, although Albanian hit men were used.
In a further twist, Phileleftheros now reports the involvement of a prison warden at Nicosia’s central prisons, who allegedly helped facilitate the wire transfer of €1,000 to the people planning the Kalopsidiotis hit.
The paper also cited a document drafted by Interpol’s Belgrade office which is said to name the prison warden in question. In addition, a call related to the arrangements for the planned murder is reported to have been placed from the central prisons.
Appearing to be constantly on the back foot ever since the June 23 Ayia Napa shootout – where Kalopsidiotis and three other persons were killed – Nicolaou said on Monday “that the road toward stamping out corruption in the police force is not easy, and it is expected to become tougher as our efforts [to eradicate corruption] intensify.”
He added he was assuming political responsibility, “in close cooperation with the police leadership, to map out the road ahead and to implement measures to crack down on corruption, which I am willing to discuss with all political parties, as part of a collective effort.”
Apparently seeking to deflect some attention away from his own responsibilities, Nicolaou said that “we all share responsibility for the situation prevailing inside the police force and for the unorthodox hiring and promotion procedures.”
Police chief Zacharias Chrysostomou offered a similar take. “The big responsibility for the situations prevailing today in the police force belongs to the socio-political system of the country, through the appointments and transfers made in the past,” he said on Monday. “Now we are reaping what was sowed in the previous years.”
On Sunday, reacting to the Phileleftheros reveal, Nicolaou pledged to clean house in the police force.
He promised the establishment of an internal affairs division within the police with the remit to stamp out corruption.
But main opposition AKEL stepped up the pressure on Nicolaou on Monday, calling on him to quit over the debacle.
“Drawing on any remnants of political sensitivity, the minister should resign immediately,” a written statement from the party read.
As the political supervisor of the police force, Nicolaou should take the fall, AKEL said.
The party went on to list a series of events pointing to Nicolaou’s poor track record as justice minister. Under his watch, AKEL said, there have been multiple suicides by inmates at the Central Prisons, and a rise in serious crime incidents against property and individuals.
The party also accused Nicolaou of having attempted to cover up an incident involving the police abuse of a man detained in Paphos.
On the killing of Kalopsidiotis AKEL said that despite their persistent questions from the outset, they never received an official briefing from the minister.
Instead, AKEL said, whenever Nicolaou was confronted with questions he would defer to the police.
“And now we discover that the minister’s subordinates, be it by accident, criminal negligence or corruption, placed a call to those very people whom they were supposed to prevent from executing the heinous crime.”
If Nicolaou failed to step down, the responsibility would necessarily shift to the person who appointed him – the president – AKEL said.
President Nicos Anastasiades is currently vacationing in Rhodes.
AKEL said it would be tabling the affair for discussion at the House legal affairs committee, where all involved parties would be summoned “to provide the necessary explanations” for the Ayia Napa multiple murder and its overall handling by law enforcement.
AKEL also panned the government camp’s attempt to attribute corruption in the police force to cronyism.
It pointed out that it was the DISY-led administration of 1993-2003 which had engaged in “an orgy” of nepotistic appointments in the police force.
Moreover, AKEL said, to invoke nepotism and ineptitude misses the mark, since the recent revelations point rather to outright corruption.
Likewise the Greens urged Nicolaou to demonstrate “the necessary political sensitivity” – code for resign.