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Businessman attacked for exporting potatoes from the north

Potatoes being picked in Cyprus' red villages

A Greek Cypriot businessman who made a deal with a Turkish Cypriot counterpart to bring over potatoes for export under the Green Line Regulation (GLR) is being harassed and has had threats made to burn down his packaging plant, he says.

Christos Christofi told the Cyprus Mail that last Saturday a group of around 200 protesters showed up at the premises of his company Sowrrano Fresh Ltd in Achna in the Famagusta district, made up of farmers, other potato exporters and seven MPs.

The protesters were only stopped from entering the plant by British bases police, Christofi said. “They protected us.”

The businessman said it all started in July when he made the deal on the Turkish Cypriot side to export potatoes that came from the north out through the legal ports of the Republic. Such trade is run under the GLR introduced by the EU in 2004 as part of a package to assist Turkish Cypriots, though the scheme runs both ways.

When Christofi began bringing over potato consignments, unknown persons fired shots outside his house so he decided to stop for a while.

He started again Thursday and Friday last week to bring over potatoes and by Saturday there was a mob of around 200 people, including the MPs protesting outside the plant, he said.

“There were farmers with some politicians demonstrating outside my premises saying what I was doing was illegal,” he said.

Christofi said threats also came from unrecognised phone numbers saying his premises would be burned down, and that problems would be caused for his family.

Four of the seven MPs at the protest on Saturday were from ruling DISY. Christofi said he identified two of them as Kyriacos Hadjiyiannis and Giorgos Georgiou, both MPs for the Famagusta district. He said he did not recognise the other two DISY deputies.

Michalis Georgallas from the Solidarity Movement – a Famagusta deputy – and the two far-right ELAM deputies, Christos Christou and Linos Papayiannis, the latter also a Famagusta district deputy, were there as well, according to Christofi.

He said the SBA police were called and “protected us” and stopped them from entering the premises.
So far Christofi has brought over 150 tonnes of potatoes and is contracted to bring 700 tonnes in total and export them, mainly to Greece, and the UK. None of the potatoes are sold on the local market, he said.

He said his detractors were also calling his customers abroad and spreading lies about the crop. “They’re calling clients and telling them the potatoes are from Turkey,” he said.

Christofi said Agriculture Minister Nicos Kouyialis had visited the packaging plant on Monday and confirmed that everything was above board and within the scope of the GLR, which provides that consignments from the north must be checked by an EU official to certify they are of Turkish Cypriot origin and are not harmful to health.

“We are trying to create good relations,” said Christofi of his deal with the Turkish Cypriot business. “I want our country to be reunited and if we don’t start now, then what’s the point?”

None of the MPs in question could be reached on Tuesday but one, Kyriacos Hadjiyiannis was hosted on Politis Radio in the morning where he was quizzed on Katerina Eliades’ show.

She called Hadjiyiannis and asked him why he had gone to the protest and he said: “We went to protest about the illegal trade.”

When she told him that the trade was not illegal, he insisted: “We went to protest against the illegal trade.”

“So you joined a protest attended by ELAM deputies?” she asked. “We went to protest against the illegal trade,” he responded for a third time. He then said he had to go to a House committee meeting and hung up.

ELAM slammed the GLR in a general announcement on Tuesday bemoaning a number of issues that were Cyprob related.

DISY spokesman Prodromos Prodromou, answering whether he thought four MPs from the ruling pro-solution party protesting a perfectly legal situation would create a negative impression, conceded to the Cyprus Mail later on Tuesday that it was unfortunate.

He said a grey area might be the packaging of the potatoes in the government-controlled part of the island but this was not really an issue. In this instance everything was done legally and EU certified, he said.

Prodromou did not condone the actions of the four deputies but neither did he condemn them. “They were under pressure from voters who have interests in the potato industry,” he offered. But he added that people have to understand that what is being done is legal and not a reason to demonstrate. It was unlikely there would any repercussions for the four deputies within the party itself. “But we will explain to them that it is legal.”

According to the latest Green Line report for 2015, the total value of goods for which accompanying documents were issued amounted to €3.93 million compared with €3.91 million in 2014, an increase of 0.58 per cent.

The report mentioned that traders from both communities were faced with many administrative problems when wanting to enter into business with the other community. “The economic operators from both sides need to be free to engage in trade relations, based on their business requirements,” the report concluded.

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