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Eleven remanded in Tepak research grant fraud

ELEVEN suspects believed to involved in possible fraud surrounding research programmes at the state technical university (Tepak) were remanded for eight days on Friday at Limassol district court.

The case concerns 23 EU co-funded programmes worth €5m between 2008 and 2015. The prime suspect is a female former employee of the university, Rozita Pavlidou, who managed the research programmes in question.

She is believed to have abused her position to force professors to hire her relatives for research programmes and threaten them if they posed any objections.

During the six-hour marathon court session that ended at 5pm, the court heard that one witness told police Pavlidou had said she knew people in the underworld and “it would only take a phone call to put a bomb somewhere.”

The other suspects are another Tepak professor, Costas Costa, and the remaining nine are relatives of Pavlidou or people close to her circle, such as her daughter-in-law.

In one research programme, Pavlidou apparently demanded from a scientist to hire her son and sister so they could get the funds.

False documents were used in a bid to receive the grants and in several instances, much of the research produced was wrong, the court heard. Professors were forced to seek more funds to ensure the research was undertaken by other persons apt to carry it out.

The court heard that in the ‘Ermis’ research programme, the head professor paid part of the expenses out of his own pocket so the university would not be exposed.

According to one witness, Pavlidou undertook 37 trips abroad as part of the programmes, for which she received €20,500, while other Tepak employees only travelled once.

The professor suspected of aiding her headed seven of the 23 research programmes. Costa told police he had complained to Pavlidou that the people she placed in the research programmes did not do any work and he was forced to work a lot more hours.

She had apparently reacted strongly against him and he thought of his future career should he refuse her requests.

Police did not rule out further arrests over the next few days.

The professor’s lawyer said his client did not object to the remand order and was willing to cooperate with police, while the remaining suspects have yet to answer police questions.

Police investigations began six months ago and upon hearing this, Pavlidou and Costa sent letters to reassure a couple that had been called in for questioning. The court heard Pavlidou told them what they should and shouldn’t tell police officers.

In a statement earlier this week, Tepak said the female former employee had been the subject of an internal and external investigation launched in early 2015, the findings of which were made available to government authorities.

The employee was subsequently suspended, and she resigned from Tepak in June 2015.

The police probe followed a report by the auditor-general regarding research programmes handled by a specific Tepak employee.

According to the 2015 report, the auditor had conveyed to the attorney-general a copy of an internal audit carried out at the university, which found that family members had taken part in research programmes handled by the employee.

The auditor suggested that criminal offences may have been committed.

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