Interior minister Socratis Hasikos on Wednesday insisted that he can see no impropriety in a company partly owned by him bidding to rent office space to a government department under his own ministry.
The case was reported to the Conflict of Interest committee, a government-appointed body tasked with reviewing such dubious, both ethically and legally, instances.
It was referred to the committee by the auditor-general, Odysseas Michaelides, last week, following an investigation into the possible conflict between Hasikos’ indirect stake in various local media and his role as boss of media oversight bodies.
Michaelides had replied to the Greens’ chief Yiorgos Perdikis, who had reported Hasikos’ potential media conflict, that he had found no impropriety as the minister had alienated himself from running or owning the media.
However, as part of his investigations, Michaelides unearthed another of Hasikos’ business interests, this one more questionable.
Last year, a company, in which Hasikos maintains a 60 per cent stake, submitted – and won – a bid to rent office space to the Civil Aviation Department.
The company had been renting out the property to the government department for the last 10 years, and the contract expired at the end of 2016.
While the previous contract was not questionable per the law on conflict of interest, since it was signed prior to the enactment of the restrictive legislation and Hasikos’ ministerial appointment in 2013, last year’s bid was expressly forbidden by the law, Michaelides reasoned.
“I have not yet been called by the [Conflict of Interest] committee,” Hasikos said on Wednesday.
“I, too, found out from the newspapers that the committee will sit today for the first time on this case.”
However, he added, a quote attributed to the committee’s chairman – a proverb in ancient Greek to the effect that no judgement can be passed prior to a fair hearing – left him “fully satisfied”.
“It means the committee sessions will not be a continuation of my trial and conviction by the auditor-general,” Hasikos said.
The minister had taken great offence at Michaelides’ finding that Hasikos’ handling of the matter was probably illegal, and even more so with the leaking of the story to the press before being asked to explain himself.
“I have appointed [former attorney-general and presidential hopeful in 2003] Mr Alecos Markides as my lawyer,” he said.
“He will represent me if and when we are called. I insist that there is no conflict of interest. I did what I did in good faith, with respect to the institutions.”
Meanwhile, ex-officio committee member state treasurer Rea Georgiou announced having recused herself from the committee’s hearings on request by Hasikos.
In a statement, Georgiou said she opted for recusal after Hasikos, in a letter on Tuesday to the chairman, requested that she be exempted.
“The interior minister cited a complaint he filed to the attorney-general against me, in connection with affairs relating to my husband,” Georgiou said.
“Personally, I am aware neither of the affairs his complaint refers to, nor whether it was investigated and what the outcome was.”
During another of his public rows with auditor-general Michaelides two years ago, over the minister’s handling of the extension of a waste-processing contract at the Koshi plant, Hasikos made fleeting references to a conflict of interest Georgiou’s husband had in connection with the recently closed-down Kofinou state slaughterhouse.
He never fully fleshed out his accusations, but at the time seemed to imply that Michaelides was trying to wrest control of the Koshi contract from him and have the decision made by an independent committee chaired by Georgiou.
“What I do know, however, is that in my 30-year career as a civil servant, my main concern has been to perform my duties as prescribed by the Constitution and the state’s laws,” she said.
“Irrespective of the above, since the interior minister feels there is an issue with my presence on the committee, my judgement was that my recusal was preferable.”
Georgiou said that, although she disagreed with Hasikos’ reasoning, she insisted that her recusal be accepted at his strong insistence.