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Our View : We are failing to tackle organised crime

outgoing Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou

Everyone seems to agree that the police force’s attempts to clamp down on organised crime are not very effective. This becomes a subject of public debate when there are a few incidents close to each other. In the space of a few weeks there was the double murder in Strovolos, the shootout in Ypsonas in which a policeman was seriously injured and last weekend the shooting of a man outside his house in Trachoni village.

Such incidents remind our politicians and media that not enough is being done to fight crime and they feel obliged to utter platitudes about “zero tolerance” and announce new crackdowns which rarely amount to very much. An illustration of the so-called crackdown was given on Wednesday when some 18 people known to police from past cases were arrested in the Larnaca district and taken in for questioning. None appeared in court and they were released later in the day, prompting criticism that the arrests were for public show.

It was difficult not to conclude that the main purpose of the arrests was for the police to be seen to be doing something about organised crime. Were people arrested in order to be given a telling off or to be warned to stop engaging in crime? Perhaps the police wanted to show they knew who was involved in organised crime and linked to money laundering. Whether such methods have any impact is another matter. In a way, the suspects would have been reassured that there was no evidence against them to justify even a remand order.

The Mayor of Paphos Phedonas Phedonos regularly attacks the police, accusing them of corruption and senior officers of having links to organised crime. Phedonos publicly gives the names of suspected drug traffickers in Paphos and urges the police to make arrests; he even purports to know the parts of town where drugs are sold. He is invariably ignored, and uses this to support his claim that police are allegedly protecting criminals.

Meanwhile, Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou has been repeating his call for legislation that would allow police to monitor the telephone communications of suspected criminals, insisting this would be the only way to get to the top people of organised crime, especially relating to drug trafficking. The parties have consistently refused to pass legislation giving the police this power, which would have to be authorised by a judge, on the grounds that it would be a violation of human rights. In Cyprus we have to respect the rights of suspected drug traffickers.

On Friday Akel chief Andros Kyprianou said his party would not approve such a bill. The police have been given enough legal tools to fight crime and do not need this one as well, he argued. This was another indication, like Wednesday’s show arrests and Phedonos’ public outbursts, of how committed everyone is to the fight against organised crime.

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