Although much has been said and written about conflict of interest at the Supreme Court in the last few weeks, Attorney-general Costas Clerides revisited the issue in an interview published in Kathimerini on Sunday. He did not say anything new, but reasserted the links of the offspring of certain judges that were involved in upholding the appeal brought by the Bank of Cyprus with the law firm that represented the bank.
“Serious inadequacies were noted that indicated that in both cases the rules which would have ensured the objective impartiality of some of the judges that tried the cases were not observed,” said Clerides. The second case he was referring to was presided over by President of the Supreme Court Myron Nikolatos, whose daughter and sister had reached an out of court settlement with the Bank of Cyprus in a dispute over bank bonds a few months before he exercised his casting vote in favour of the Bank of Cyprus’ appeal. The bank was represented in the appeal case by the same lawyer who reached the out of court settlement.
Without spelling it out, Clerides implied there was corruption, not only in the interview, but also in a written statement he issued backing the allegations of conflict of interest made by his brother and in comments made in the legislature where he admitted that his 40-year friendship with Nikolatos was ended by the latter’s decision. This raises the following question: why had the attorney-general not ordered an investigation against Nikolatos since he felt the action of the president of the Supreme Court was suspect? He did not say that an investigation was not merited, but only that he could not carry it out.
He told Kathimerini: “As regards the taking of any other measures, such as the appointment of an investigative committee or a criminal investigation, the attorney-general would not be the appropriate person to decide because of his involvement in the matters under examination or investigation.” This was a fair point as he had an involvement – his office was prosecuting the cases that were lost on appeal, and which led to his brother’s accusations against the Supreme Court, which he endorsed. In short, it would be up to the Council of Ministers to order an investigation.
Clerides did not display the same scruples four years earlier when he was in dispute with his deputy Rikkos Erotokritou. He had publicly fallen out with Erotokritou, on a personal and professional level, but had no hesitation in ordering an investigation against him. Was he the appropriate person to decide on an investigation against his deputy, given his direct personal involvement in the matter? Clearly, according to what he says now, he was not. But nevertheless, he personally selected and appointed a criminal investigator who came up with a report which has never been published. Shortly afterwards he appointed two more hand-picked criminal investigators to strengthen the case against Erotokritou and others, as he stated in court, and indicted them. When Erotokritou hit back with his own allegations against Clerides and President Anastasiades indicated that the Council of Ministers would order an investigation, the attorney-general wrote to him accusing him of meddling in his jurisdiction using the words ‘shame on you’ to describe the President’s action.
In the end, Erotokritou’s allegations were investigated by staff at the attorney-general’s office – subordinates of Clerides – who dismissed them. Had the attorney-general in this case displayed the “objective impartiality” he is now demanding of the judges?
Be that as it may, most people would interpret the latest statements by the attorney general as a clear admission that Erotokritou and his co-accused had been deprived of their basic human right to a fair trial and unjustly deprived of their liberty for a considerable time, not to mention the severe damage they suffered.