By George Psyllides
The Nicosia criminal court ordered a trial within a trial on Thursday after the defence disputed the legitimacy of certain evidence in the Focus corruption case, which relates to the alleged bribery of a former central bank governor in exchange for his collusion in the takeover of Laiki Bank in 2006.
The defence argued that certain evidence the prosecution was trying to submit constituted private communications that took place before a law was passed allowing authorities to monitor and gather written electronic communications of suspects, including emails, as well as messages exchanged on applications like Viber, Skype, WhatsApp, and Facebook.
The law came into force in December, 2015.
The defence said any evidence collected before that was inadmissible, describing the prosecutors’ attempt to use the material as “arbitrary and illegal because it violates a protected human right.”
The material in question can be found on an external hard drive seized by authorities from the personal computer of defendant Michalis Zolotas, a Greek shipowner accused of using his Focus Maritime Corp to transfer €1m to pay former central bank governor Christodoulos Christodoulou.
The money was paid into the account of a consulting firm technically owned by Christodoulou’s daughter, and it is alleged that it was actually done on behalf of former Laiki strongman Andreas Vgenopoulos in exchange for the former governor’s collusion during the Greek financier’s 2006 takeover of Laiki.
Laiki closed down in 2013.
The trial within a trial will start on October 26.
This will be the third such trial to examine defence objections over the evidence presented in the case. The two other processes were won by the prosecution.
Apart from Christodoulou and Zolotas, the charge sheet includes the former governor’s daughter, Athina, her ex-husband Andreas Kizourides, former Laiki official Michael Fole, and companies A. C. Christodoulou Consultants Ltd, Marfin Investment Group (MIG), and Focus Maritime Corp.
The defendants face a total of 24 charges including corruption, bribery, abuse of authority, abuse of trust, and money laundering.
Zolotas faces a single count relating to money laundering.
Vgenopoulos, widely considered as the protagonist in the collapse of the island’s banking system in 2013, died in November 2016.