Cyprus Mail

Omonia loan was sorted in a matter of minutes, court hears

Neophytou claimed that Christofias personally arranged for the construction firm’s bank overdrafts to be repeatedly extended by the Bank of Cyprus

RCB bank boss Kiril Zimarin was aware of the reason contractor Miltiades Neophytou visited him in December 2011 and arranged for the €2 million loan to Omonia football club to be filed within minutes, a witness told the court on Tuesday.

The court heard testimony from Stavros Aletras, a civil engineer working at Neophytou’s construction firm since 2006, as a witness in the civil lawsuit filed by the contractor against former president Demetris Christofias, claiming redress for payments in excess of €22 million made to Omonia, as well as construction work on Christofias’ Makedonitissa residence, Kellaki holiday home, and campaign headquarters in 2007.

Aletras testified that near the end of 2011 he was asked by his boss to join him on a trip to Limassol, where he was told they would meet RCB’s CEO.

Neophytou wanted him to come along because he speaks good English, Aletras said.

Upon arrival at the bank’s Limassol headquarters, Aletras said the two were welcomed by Zimarin and three or four associates.

He noted that he then realised that Zimarin was aware of the reason for the visit, and asked Neophytou what kind of collateral Omonia could post for the loan.

According to Aletras, Neophytou asked Zimarin whether Christofias had not told him about Omonia’s situation, to which Zimarin smiled and asked whether Neophytou would be willing to sign a personal guarantee for the loan.

“He said yes, the documents were prepared and signed, and we left,” the witness said.

The plaintiff’s lawyer Charilaos Velaris said the rest of his witnesses were not ready to testify, so judge Nicolas Santis set November 1, 2, and 3 as hearing dates.

Velaris said he plans to call four witnesses, namely former Bank of Cyprus risk-management director Nicolas Karydas, who claimed to have been fired for declining to approve overdraft extensions for Neophytou’s firm – which the contractor said were repeatedly arranged by Christofias – Neophytou’s son Christos, the construction firm’s executive director Yiannakis Ioannou, and an auditor or certified accountant.

The four witnesses’ testimony will be followed by Christofias taking the stand.

Among other things, Neophytou claimed the former president instructed then-Interior minister Neoclis Sylikiotis to “start the process” of affecting a land-zoning upgrade for an area near Pera Chorio-Nisou, Nicosia, where Akel owns a substantial plot, so that it would be sold at the appreciated value – estimated at €40- €50 million. The money, Neophytou claimed, would be used to pay him back for all the payments he made, “and leave some money for Akel, too”.

The extent of the upgrade, although eventually proposed by the town-planning council, was reduced by Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos, who also suggested the initial proposal had been ‘photographic’.

“I approved the reduced upgrade for the entire area, not just this particular plot and a few adjacent ones,” he told state radio on Tuesday.

The contractor also claimed that Christofias personally arranged for the construction firm’s bank overdrafts to be repeatedly extended by the Bank of Cyprus, so that Neophytou could pour the extra money into Omonia. The goal was, Neophytou said, for Omonia to do well and win trophies, so that Akel supporters would rally around it and help Christofias secure re-election in 2013.

Further, Neophytou claimed that, when Christofias asked him to renovate his Kellaki holiday home, he instructed him to add to the existing structure without the required permit, and when the contractor suggested that he apply for one, the former president declined.

“I don’t want them to know what I’m doing up here,” Neophytou cited him as saying.

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