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War of words between Hasikos and auditor-general

File photo: Socratis Hasikos and Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides

The interior minister and the auditor-general traded barbs during the weekend over whether renting office space in a building owned by Socratis Hasikos to the civil aviation department constituted conflict of interest.

The fresh war of words between the two officials started last week after it emerged that a company, 60-per-cent owned by Hasikos, was renting office space to a government department.

The minister denied there was anything irregular, arguing that the lease contract was signed in 2007, before the law on conflict of interest was voted.

“It is on this point that I have stated publicly that, in case of a conflict of interest, I will not sign, nor will I engage in shenanigans and arrangements allowed for in the law, like turning my shares over to my wife and children so that I technically have no conflicts,” he said.

As well, the interior minister added, in capital statements submitted to parliaments on July 18, 2013, and May 30, 2016, his participation in the ownership structure of the company, SOEC, is clearly recorded.

On Saturday, Hasikos issued a lengthy statement accusing Odysseas Michaelides of targeting him and acting on behalf of other interests.

“It is also obvious that he is unwittingly becoming a tool for serving the interests of other people and not the ones defined by the constitution,” he said. “He has now moved on to probing the political ethics and morality of politicians.”

Hasikos said the auditor thought he had the power to investigate their political ethics, and accused him of trying to muzzle them.

“The logic of ‘everyone is a thief until proven otherwise’ only exists in your brain Mr. Auditor. There are honest people too and you cannot sully them in such a way.”

The minister wondered what use was the committee on conflict of interest “if you decide about everything in the absence of the minister no less.”

Michaelides responded on Sunday, arguing that the contract was in force when the minister took office in March 2013, thus precluding him from assuming his post unless he undertook, in writing, to remove himself from the particular financial transaction.

“Neither did he make such a statement, as he said the other day, nor did he take any measures to lift the conflict of interest,” the auditor said. “On the contrary, if what his newspaper (Alithia) writes is true, he concealed the fact from the committee because he judged himself, that there was no conflict.”

Michaelides also “reminded” the minister that his ministry was also represented in the state body dealing with the rental of buildings.

Ethical principles were breached when public servants were called on to select between bids including one from a company belonging to a minister, Michaelides said.

“A year ago, we had asked the minister to realise that the more he tried to intimidate the audit service, the stronger its effort would be to convey to the public the message that no one was above the law,” the auditor said. “The intimidation risk is well known to audit services internationally and let the minister be certain that his effort will fail. As will his effort to impose his own ethical principles on to the society.”

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