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Heated exchanges over Opap affair

Auditor general Odysseas Michaelides

Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides and private data commissioner Irini Loizidou Nicolaidou resumed their very public spat on Thursday over the former’s refusal to divulge to the latter the name of a source who had provided allegedly compromising information against private betting company Opap.

The two officials waged a running battle of words throughout the day on several media outlets, each accusing the other of being ignorant of the law.

Nicolaidou and Michaelides are at loggerheads over his refusal to hand over the name of a source who provided him with information relating to a complaint she was looking into.

The complaint to Nicolaidou was lodged by Opap, which claims the Audit Office had obtained the information unlawfully.

During the course of investigating this complaint, the data commissioner requested the Audit Office to provide her with information, including the whistleblower’s name.

Michaelides declined, prompting Nicolaidou to report him last November to the attorney-general on the grounds that he breached legislation requiring all agencies to hand over to her any information requested by her office.

In heated exchanges on television and radio, Nicolaidou said there was a difference between a whistleblower and “a snitch” who maliciously provides information to authorities.

She accused Michaelides of encouraging “snitching,” warning that information provided by members of the public without going through the designated channels would lead to “runaway and non-transparent situations.”

“With his conduct, the auditor-general is urging citizens to breach the institutions of the Republic.”

Firing back, Michaelides accused Nicolaidou of being “out of control” and of taking it upon herself to arbitrarily determine which source constitutes a snitch and which a whistleblower.

He vowed again not to disclose the name of his source.

Going on the offensive, Michaelides said the data commissioner was trying to bully prospective whistleblowers.

“Shame on her for referring to whistleblowers as snitches,” he added, urging members of the public to ignore such attempts at intimidation and to continue reporting suspected corrupt practices.

Moreover, Michaelides asserted that through her actions Nicolaidou herself may be interfering in an ongoing police investigation into Opap.

This is because the complaint filed by Opap to the data commissioner was lodged on behalf not of the company itself, but of the very individual who was unmasked by Michaelides’ source.

This was odd to say the least, Michaelides said, given that the individual in question is not an employee of Opap’s nor does this person have a contractual relationship with the betting company, according to Opap’s own claims.

The issue concerns Opap and the agreement it made with the state to be permitted to operate in Cyprus.

Michaelides has repeatedly stated in the past that the state got a raw deal and as a result, he claims, the government is losing millions a year in potential additional taxes payable by the betting agency.

During discussions in parliament last year, the auditor said there were also suspicious financial data relating to monthly wire transfers made from a bank account held by Opap in Cyprus, to a person residing in the United Arab Emirates.

Every month Opap would wire this individual the same amount, €25,000. Police have the beneficiary’s name, age, and the bank to which the money was sent.

During the course of scrutinising Opap’s revenue stream, Michaelides’ office was contacted by a whistleblower who provided the information about the wire transfers.

But according to Opap, this type of information is confidential and thus must have been obtained illegally.

It’s understood the data itself concerning the wire transfers is legitimate, as they are cited as undisputed facts in court documents.

In December last year the supreme court ruled definitively that a warrant to search the premises of Opap was null and void.

Despite this, a police investigation into the betting agency is still ongoing.

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