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Investigators appointed to probe police debacle (updated)

The officer working in the Interpol office in Nicosia who made the blunder of placing a call to criminal elements in Serbia has been transferred, the police confirmed on Tuesday as the attorney-general appointed three investigators to look into possible corruption and dereliction of duty by members of the police force over the debacle.

Police spokesman Andreas Angelides told the Cyprus Mail that the officer in question has been transferred out of the Interpol office to a post at Nicosia police HQ.

The officer is expected to be among those interviewed during an upcoming criminal inquest into the overall handling by police of intelligence relating to the gangland-style murder of businessman Phanos Kalopsidiotis in Ayia Napa on June 23.

The investigators were appointed after a request by Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou following a monumental bungle where police – 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.

Attorney-general Costas Clerides appointed former Supreme Court judge and chairman of the police watchdog Andreas Pashalides, and former police officers Panayiotis Pelagias and Agamemnonas Demetriou. The probe should be carried out within three months.

The contract killing is believed to have been masterminded in Serbia, although Albanian hit men were used. One of the hit men was killed in the exchange of fire at the Stone Garden restaurant in Ayia Napa, while the other hired gun, also an Albanian, is still at large.

Meanwhile Koula Theofanous, the mother of Phanos Kalopsidiotis, the target of the hit, has said she plans to sue the state for not affording protection to her son.

“They knew that hit men were coming to kill my son and did nothing,” she told Phileleftheros.

The restaurant where Kalopsidiotis was gunned down
The restaurant where Kalopsidiotis was gunned down

She moreover intends to meet with the police chief and complain about the police’s handling of information as well as the fact that the local Interpol officer has not been sacked.

Amid the outcry over the police bungling, Nicolaou has announced the creation of a new internal affairs division within the police.

It’s understood this will be a wholly new department, established under law and with a wide scope. Its remit will be exclusively to investigate corruption in the police force.

The police already has an internal affairs unit of sorts, known as the Professional Standards, Audit and Inspection Directorate. There is also an internal audit unit. They are both housed in the same premises and, the Mail learns, employ about five staff in total.

However the new envisioned internal affairs department will deal with serious corruption within the force, rather than with minor infractions such as police officers not following correct procedures. It will answer directly to the chief of police.

The new department’s establishment was announced irrespective of whether the erroneous call committed by the Interpol local office was mistaken or deliberate.

In the wake of the debacle, the justice minister has spoken of the lack of meritocracy in police officer appointments, promising again to shake things up.

Police chief Zacharias Chrysostomou is meanwhile said to be seeking a meeting with President Nicos Anastasiades to discuss the issue of corruption in the police force. Anastasiades is currently on holiday in Rhodes.

Calls from political parties for the justice minister to step down over the fiasco have somewhat subsided. Speaking to the public broadcaster, a DIKO official on Tuesday made the surprising admission – on a PR level at least – that all parties are involved in nepotism and cronyism in the police force.

Even AKEL, which had demanded the minister’s immediate resignation, dialled down their rhetoric. Party spokesman Stefanos Stefanou said a witch hunt was not their intention, nor was the minister’s resignation an end unto itself.

A far broader approach to rectify the situation in the police force was needed, he added.

Speaking to the Mail, Andreas Kapardis, professor of Legal Psychology at the University of Cyprus and Chair of its Law Department, reiterated his call for the establishment of an independent commission with powers to investigate corruption in the broader public sector.

“It is hypocritical on the part of politicians to pontificate in the media about what should be done, when they themselves are responsible for this phenomenon [nepotism].

“It’s common knowledge that political parties meddle with appointments and promotions in the police,” the criminology expert added.

The lack of meritocracy ensures that morale within the police is low.

“You’re just asking for trouble,” said Kapardis.

In his opinion, although the majority of police officers are not crooked, at the same time corruption is endemic.

“I’m referring for example to the funny business, connections between police officers and the underworld. The excuse we often hear – that Cyprus is a small place and everyone knows everybody – isn’t good enough.”

Some initial measures to ameliorate the situation would include better pay for officers.

“For starters, you need a respectable salary. Would you do that kind of work for €1,200? Also, because of the financial squeeze, many officers have seen their allowances cut.”

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