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Cyprus

Focus corruption case headed back to court

Former Central Bank chief Christodoulos Christodoulou (file photo)

THE trial proper in the Focus corruption case is to proceed again, after the Supreme Court rejected the latest motions filed by various defendants.

To date, three trials within a trial have taken place in the start-stop 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.

Nicosia district court, trying the case, had ruled against multiple objections raised by the defendants, some of whom subsequently petitioned the Supreme Court to reverse those interim rulings.

In its latest intervention, the Supreme Court ruled on a motion filed by two of the defendants that certain evidence introduced by the prosecution should be ruled inadmissible.

The criminal court had thrown out the objection, in what was the third trial within a trial. The defence then challenged the interim judgment with the Supreme Court.

The defence had 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 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 was shuttered in 2013.

Some of the contested items of evidence were documents pertaining to the transfer of €1m from Greece’s Egnatia Bank to Focus.

Exhibit 1, in particular, references a €1m payment made by Egnatia to Focus, described as an “overdraft facility.” This has now been ruled admissible.

A triple merger between Egnatia, Laiki and Marfin Financial Group had been overseen by Vgenopoulos, who owned shares in all three.

The Greek financier, widely considered as the protagonist in the collapse of the island’s banking system in 2013, died in November 2016.

On January 8, Nicosia criminal court will decide on whether to allow a fourth trial within a trial, after fresh objections raised by the defence, again relating to the evidence.

The defendants face a total of 24 charges including corruption, bribery, abuse of authority, abuse of trust, and money laundering.

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