By Stelios Orphanides
DEPUTY Government spokesman, Victor Papadopoulos said Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou and Attorney-general Costas Clerides had explained to Russian authorities and ambassador Stanislav Osadchiy why Cypriot authorities had to freeze judicial cooperation with Russia pending a lawsuit and a request filed by Hermitage Capital founder Bill Browder.
Speaking on state radio, Papadopoulos said that after Browder resorted to Cypriot justice requesting that information about Hermitage Capital subsidiaries should not be passed on to Russia, “the court took a position”.
“In a European democracy with rule of law, respecting court procedures goes without saying,” Papadopoulos continued. “The court’s position and the procedure were explained to Russian authorities and especially to the Russian ambassador, both by the justice minister and the attorney- general, and I believe both were understood. Hence the visit of the Russian investigators was postponed”.
Ambassador Osadchiy said on Friday that Browder’s application hurt Cyprus’s ties with Russia, one of the island’s major commercial partners, days before President Nicos Anastasiades is scheduled to visit Moscow.
Papadopoulos said Russia’s reaction to the suspension of cooperation in the case against Browder will not overshadow Anastasiades’ visit to Moscow.
On Tuesday, the Russian foreign ministry said it had “serious doubts about the legality of the decision” of the Cypriot court urging the government to hold off on further action pending its hearing of Browder’s suit, which was “in stark contrast to the level and nature of bilateral relations”.
The justice minister assured that Cyprus would continue cooperating with Russia in the area in question after having suspended the joint investigation temporarily, “respecting the judicial procedure”.
Papadopoulos said “the government’s position that it has to comply with judicial procedures, is understood. I believe this is reflected in the comments of the Russian ambassador that the Russian Federation has no differences with the Republic of Cyprus”.
Osadchiy’s comments that the dispute was not between Cyprus and Russia but between Russia and Browder “speaks for itself,” the government spokesman said. “The facts are known. The procedure followed is known and I believe that we have rule of law”.
Russia launched the investigation against Browder in response to the latter’s international campaign for justice for Russian lawyer and accountant Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Russian prison tortured and deprived of medical care eight years ago.
Magnitsky was arrested by the same police officers he implicated in a $230m (€194m) tax theft. Part of the money has been laundered through Cyprus.
Two years ago, Cypriot police raided the office of Browder’s previous lawyers, accompanied by Russian police officials.
Interpol has repeatedly dismissed Russia’s requests for cooperation and the Council of Europe asked its member states in 2014 not to cooperate with Russia and instead take targeted measures against individuals implicated in Magnitsky’s death similar to those provided in the US Magnitsky Act.