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Cyprus

Focus trial back on track after ruling on evidence

Michalis Zolotas

The trial proper in the Focus case was allowed to move forward again on Monday, after Nicosia criminal court ruled – in a trial within a trial – that certain evidence introduced by the prosecution was admissible.

The defence had earlier argued that evidence obtained from Greece by Cypriot authorities was not acquired lawfully via the mutual judicial assistance protocol between the two countries. As such, they said, this evidence should not be admissible.

The evidence in question relates to Greek national Michalis Zolotas, owner of Focus Maritime Corp and a key defendant in the proceedings.

On Monday, the court rejected the defence’s motion.

By unanimous decision, the three judges said the evidence in question had been obtained lawfully from Greece via mutual judicial assistance requests made by Cypriot law enforcement authorities.

According to the court, the prosecution proved beyond a reasonable doubt that all the evidence in question was accounted for and properly documented in the mutual judicial assistance requests.

The court noted that even if the evidence had not been obtained lawfully, it would still have admitted the evidence provided it were deemed relevant to the case and provided that the defendants’ right to a fair trial were not adversely affected.

The decision allowed the prosecution to call to the witness stand CID sergeant Nicolas Foullidis, the officer in charge of the evidence related to the case.

Foullidis had begun testifying in early May, but his testimony was interrupted when the defence raised its objection to the evidence, leading to the trial within a trial.

On Monday, the defence objected anew when Foullidis tried to introduce as evidence a digital disk containing evidence.

The CD was obtained from the Sovereign Base Areas, the court was told.

The defence argued that the CD was not obtained lawfully.

As such, the proceedings were interrupted, and will resume on September 7.

Prosecutors claim that Focus Maritime Corp was the conduit for transferring €1m to a consultancy firm in Cyprus.

The consultancy firm was owned by the daughter of then governor of the Central Bank Christodoulos Christodoulou. The prosecution’s case rests on the premise that the money was a sweetener to Christodoulou so he would green-light the 2006 takeover of Laiki Bank by Greek financier Andreas Vgenopoulos, now deceased.

Laiki was shuttered in 2013.

Vgenopoulos, chairman of Marfin Investment Group (MIG), was initially also on the charge sheet. His name was withdrawn when he died in November 2016.

In addition to Zolotas and Christodoulou, defendants in the same case are Christodoulou’s daughter Athina, her ex-husband Andreas Kizourides, former Laiki official Michael Fole, and ΑC Christodoulou Consultants Ltd, MIG and Focus as legal entities.

In a related issue, state attorney Andreas Aristides said on Monday that no evidence or documents related to the Focus case were destroyed in the fire that broke out at the Nicosia court complex back in February.

Aristides told the Cyprus News Agency that, at the time of the fire, no evidence pertaining to the case had yet been submitted to the court and therefore none of this evidence was being stored in the building.

As such, recent media reports claiming that Focus-related evidence was destroyed, were inaccurate.

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