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Business Cyprus

Disputed evidence can be submitted in Focus trial, court rules

Former governor of the Central Bank of Cyprus Christodoulos Christodoulou

The Nicosia criminal court ruled on Tuesday to allow the submission of disputed 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 had argued that certain emails 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 material in question was 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 court ordered a trial within a trial in October last year to decide on the matter, as the prosecution argued that the emails did not contain private, but professional communication between the defendants.

The three-member court decided unanimously on Tuesday to allow the emails, upholding the argument that they constituted business communications.

The essence, according to the court, was that Zolotas, either as Focus’ authorised rep or as the owner and director, contacted the bank about issues concerning his companies.

Any closeness that may have developed as part of the cooperation “does not in any way alter or differentiate the nature and character of this correspondence, which is defined by the contents and not the use of any friendly or informal phrases.”

The court said the same went for the correspondence between Zolotas and an employee of his company.

It was the fourth successive trial within a trial prompted by the defence’s objections to the submission of various exhibits. All have been 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.

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