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When politics trumps justice

George Low was murdered in Ayia Napa in 2016

By Elias Hazou

To date there have been four instances of fugitives who’ve managed to elude justice due to the lack of cooperation between the two sides on the island or between Turkey and the Republic of Cyprus. The Sunday Mail tried to track the status of these cases. The verdict: situation unchanged. And it does not look like changing anytime in the future unless they can come up with practical workarounds to skirt the dreaded ‘recognition’ of the other side.

George Low, 22, was murdered in Ayia Napa in the early hours of August 14, 2016, when a man he had had a brief altercation with minutes earlier returned with a friend and stabbed Low and his friend Ben Barker near the bustling Ayia Napa square.

Low was killed following a stab wound to his neck, which severed his carotid artery. Barker, who was stabbed in the back four times, survived.

Mehmet Akpinar left and Sali-Ahmet, the two suspects in the murder of George Low

Two men, Mehmet Akpinar and Ahmed Salih, were later captured in Kyrenia by Turkish Cypriot police and brought before a north Nicosia court for a remand hearing which centred not on the murder, but their illegal violation of a military area, a charge levelled at people crossing into the north by means other than a checkpoint.

Neither of the two suspects are Turkish Cypriots. One is a Turk of Kurdish origin, the other a Bulgarian Turk.

Arrest warrants issued by Cyprus police for the two men are still outstanding, with authorities in the north refusing to hand over the two fugitives despite reports that the two had admitted to their involvement in the killing.

Despite unofficial overtures, the detained suspects were never handed over to the Republic of Cyprus’ authorities.

Akpinar was arrested for a second time trying to enter the north and was sentenced to three weeks and released back into Turkey again.

Ahmed Salih was tried for trespassing and travelling on false ID, and after serving a 10-month sentence was also taken to Turkey and released instead of being deported to Bulgaria.

Asked if any progress has been made in this case, Andreas Kapardis, the Greek-Cypriot chair of the Technical Committee on Crime and Criminal Matters, said only that he was expecting an update from his Turkish Cypriot counterpart at the next meeting of the committee, scheduled for June 4.

Meanwhile, almost two years on, George’s grieving parents are fed up with the game of guacamole.

In an emailed statement to the Sunday Mail, Martyn and Helen Low said:

“The mediator bodies such as the bicommunal committee have failed to even discuss the case. The families and their MP have emailed MPs in Famagusta and did not receive so much as an acknowledgement let alone a reply. We have not had any contact from the investigation team or any help from our own UK police force.”

The Lows added: “We are all so truly heartbroken and devastated. We miss George so very much, our lives have changed forever. Losing George feels like our hearts have been ripped out of our chest, nothing is going to take this pain away ever, we have to learn to deal with it, but where do you start?

Another high-profile unresolved case is that of the Guzelyurtlu family, murdered in the south on January 15, 2005.

The killers had fled back to the north. The authorities of the Cypriot government and the Turkish government, including those of the ‘TRNC’, carried out parallel investigations into the murders.

The authorities concluded that the victims had been kidnapped and murdered in the early hours of 15 January 2005 and identified eight suspects.

The Turkish (including the ‘TRNC’) authorities also took a number of investigative steps and by the end of January 2005 all of the suspects had been arrested.

They denied any involvement in the crimes and were released in February 2005 owing to a lack of evidence connecting them to the murders. The file was classified as “non-resolved for the time being” in March 2007.

The ‘TRNC’ authorities requested that the case file with the evidence against the suspects be handed over so that they could conduct a prosecution.

The Cypriot authorities refused and in November 2008 they sought the extradition of the suspects who were within Turkey’s jurisdiction (either in the ‘TRNC’ or in mainland Turkey) with a view to a trial.

The extradition requests were returned to the Cypriot authorities without reply.

Relatives of the Guzelyurtlu family lodged an application with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 2007.

The process is now before the Grand Chamber panel of the ECHR.

Alper Riza QC, the lawyer representing the Guzelyurtlu family, is arguing that all sides (Republic of Cyprus, ‘TRNC’ and Turkey) failed to cooperate in what is essentially a human rights – the right to life – case.
“In Guzelyurtlu, the Greek Cypriot police were not prepared to contemplate even talking to the ‘TRNC’ police. Consequently, the TRNC became totally unreasonable by insisting trial of the suspects in the ‘TRNC’ knowing full well there was no way Greek Cypriot witnesses could possibly attend a criminal trial in the north.”

Riza points out that the “funny thing about this irrational stance is that it is based on the 1960 constitution that provides that where victim is Turkish Cypriot and alleged murderer is also Turkish Cypriot, then the judges trying the case must be Turkish Cypriot and vice versa. But of course that is not a provision from the TRNC constitution.”

The parties are now awaiting the final decision of the Grand Chamber – the “end of a long road,” as Riza puts it.

In a comment to the Sunday Mail, attorney-general Costas Clerides – who is on the Greek Cypriot team in the ECHR proceedings – said authorities in the south had done all they could.

“However, it transpired that authorities in the northern occupied part of Cyprus were all along aiming at obtaining evidential material gathered against the suspects by the Republic’s authorities for prosecuting and trying them in northern Cyprus instead of for handing them over to the Republic and enabling the case to proceed.”

This year alone has already seen two more instances of jurisdictional squabbles.

In early April, a 22-year-old Turkish national was arrested in Turkey in relation to the murder of Solomos Apostolides.

According to reports from the north the man, named as Erdinc Senturk, visited a police station in the city of Yalova near the eastern coast of the Sea of Marmara and confessed to the murder of Solomos Apostolides.

Solomos Apostolides’ body had been found in a forest area near the Kyrenia to Kythrea road.

Apostolides, a frequent visitor of the north, was last seen leaving a casino in the north with a Turkish national, Erdinc Senturk, who was said to be in his twenties.

Senturk reportedly departed for Turkey the next day. Reports said he had been discharged from the army after completing his military service in Cyprus.

There may be some forward movement in this case, Kapardis tells the Sunday Mail.

“I understand from Mr Hakki Onen [the Turkish Cypriot chair of the technical committee] that Turkish authorities have requested they be provided with the evidence in the hands of the Turkish-Cypriot authorities so they can proceed with the suspect, a Turkish national.

“It should be noted that, as far as I have been able to ascertain from Mr Onen, Turkey does not extradite its own nationals.”

And last month, Yilmaz Gumus, a wanted Turkish national, was arrested in the Republic.

He had escaped from a prison in Turkey only to be eventually arrested in the north but got out of authorities hands for a second time.

He had been sentenced to 16 years in prison by a British court in 2005 for setting an apartment in Stoke Newington, London, on fire two years earlier, targeting his girlfriend whom he suspected was having an affair.

The woman no longer lived there but three people died as a result.

Gumus served six years of his sentence in Britain and asked to serve the remainder of his time in Turkey.

After his transfer he served five years in prison and two in an open prison. In 2015, he escaped to the north where he had lived for three years.

On May 1 ‘authorities’ in the north arrested Gumus. However, he cited health problems and was taken to Kyrenia hospital from where he escaped on May 8.

In his statements to Greek Cypriot police, Gumus said he crossed to the government-controlled areas through Pyla and that a Turkish Cypriot friend picked him up from Larnaca.

Both men were arrested by Paphos police. In their possession were found a small quantity of cannabis, around €5,000 in cash and forged documents.

They face charges of conspiring to commit a crime, and forgery (fake Republic of Cyprus IDs). Gumus is also facing the charge of illegal entry into the Republic.

Michalis Ioannou, Paphos CID chief inspector, said Gumus has been referred to a criminal trial, with the first hearing set for June 8.

The matter of his extradition will come once the trial is over, Ioannou added.

In theory, the attorney-general could decide to suspend proceedings against Gumus.

Responding to a question, Ioannou said he did not recall a previous case of Turkish fugitives being arrested in the south and having their case suspended so that they could be sent to the north.

For his part, Kapardis, elaborating on the state of play, said: “As the situation stands (occupation, division of the island), there are serious impediments, not of our own choice, to the kind of collaboration in criminal matters.”

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