IT TOOK the government a year, featuring endless legal wrangling, to make a decision regarding the request by the public prosecutor’s office of the Russian Federation for assistance in its investigation of British-American financier Bill Browder. On Tuesday, justice minister Ionas Nicloaou wrote to Browder’s lawyer in Cyprus Christos Pourgourides informing him the government would suspend cooperation with Moscow on the case until litigation in the Cyprus courts was completed.
Cyprus was the only country in Europe that granted the assistance request by Russia, with even Interpol refusing to cooperate, on the grounds that the investigation was politically motivated. This was the consensus view in Europe, while the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) had taken a united stand against assisting any investigation of Browder by Russia since 2014, Cyprus being the single exception, presumably because it did not want to displease President Putin.
When the justice ministry informed Russian investigators, who had arrived in Cyprus to look into Browder companies, that they could not conduct their investigation because Browder’s lawyers had applied to the Cyprus courts for an injunction, Moscow was not happy. The Russian foreign ministry issued a rather terse announcement questioning the decision of the courts, foreign minister Sergei Lavrov expressed dismay while the ambassador in Cyprus claimed the decision could hurt relations between the two countries.
Worst of all were the embarrassingly, apologetic comments by Cyprus government officials, aimed at appeasing the Russian government. Cyprus was the only country in Europe that did not consider the investigation against Browder politically motivated and the attorney-general defended the Russia’s request in the court. The overriding concern was to keep Moscow happy, the government ingnoring the draft resolution adopted by PACE criticising Browder’s harassment by Russia and pleas by MEPs not to cooperate.
Everyone expected the Cyprus government to cooperate Russia, after the Cyprus court rejected on, August 3, the application filed by Browder’s lawyer seeking an order preventing cooperation on the matter. On August 21, the ministry of justice said the cooperation with Russia would proceed, only to announce, two days later that it would first study the ruling. Then on Tuesday Nicolaou decided there would be no cooperation until after legal cases involving Browder were completed.
Considering this could take a few years, we can only presume the government found a pretext for not granting Russia’s assistance request. What caused it to change its stance? Does it no longer fear incurring the wrath of Moscow? Perhaps it weighed its options and decided Cyprus had little to gain from total subservience to Russia, which is currently at loggerheads with the EU of which Cyprus is a member. It was the right decision, even though it should not have needed a whole year for the government to make it.