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Cyprus

Auditor-general on the spot over army duty

Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides

Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides took more flak on Monday following an admission that he had not served in the army reserves since his appointment to the post.

Leading the charge, daily Politis said it was hypocritical of Michaelides not to personally report for duty while at the same time lambasting people with connections who were dodging the reserves.

Last week, Michaelides confirmed he was not serving as a reservist. Asked why, he said that the auditor-general was exempt. He argued that had he been serving at a specific camp, he would not be able to go there in his official capacity and carry out an audit.

On Monday, Politis followed through with a report that there was no exemption in the law for the office of the auditor-general.

The only persons exempt from reservist duty are government ministers, MPs, MEPs, the attorney-general and the deputy AG, and judges.

The paper also parsed out Michaelides’ earlier remarks, where he had said that the reason he did not report for duty was due to “accepted norms”.

However, the paper said, invoking norms is a hollow excuse. The only reason that Michaelides’ immediate predecessor, Chrystalla Georghadji, did not serve in the reservists was because she was a woman. And Georghadji’s forerunners, while men, were ineligible for reservist duty as they were aged over 50 when they took up the office.

Putting the boot in, Politis said Michaelides has not convincingly explained why he was not serving in the reserves. The fact that he was not called up was no justification.

The publication was responding to the auditor-general’s comments over the weekend where he was defending himself.

In a series of tweets, Michaelides said that upon returning to Cyprus after his studies, at the age of 29, he voluntarily declared to the National Guard that he was back and thus available to serve in the reserves.

He then began to report normally for duty, until the age of 46, when he was appointed auditor-general.

At that point the army stopped calling him up.

Hitting back at his media detractors, Michaelides said Politis had a habit of ‘slinging mud’ at him.

“Only now did they remember that I’m at fault, when at age 46 I became auditor-general and the National Guard saw fit not to summon me to the reserves,” he tweeted.

The matter came to the fore after the publication last week of a report by the audit office showing that some 11,000 Cypriot men do not serve in the National Guard reserves either because they fail to declare their repatriation, are still listed as being students abroad despite being over 30, or they know someone in high places.

These include people currently serving as board members of semi-government organisations, football referees in the first division of the Cyprus League, first-division footballers, politicians, as well as people who work at the presidential palace, lawyers and media.

The report’s publication immediately drew the ire of the military, which said disclosure of sensitive information relating to the army’s operational capabilities could compromise national security.

Chiming in, daily Kathimerini then ran a story claiming that a criminal investigation might be launched into the publication of classified information.

The paper cited unnamed sources saying the matter could be referred to the attorney-general.

Michaelides retaliated, saying on social media that all the information he published was available in the public domain.

He went on to accuse the newspaper of pursuing a personal vendetta against him, because the co-owner of Kathimerini happens to be the husband of Ombudswoman Maria Stylianou-Lottides, with whom Michaelides has clashed in the past.

The government meanwhile put paid to speculation that the auditor-general could be investigated for disclosing sensitive information.

“For the government, this issue has been exhausted,” said government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou when asked if Michaelides would be the subject of a criminal probe.

The spokesman reiterated that everyone should be careful not to divulge information that might impact national security.

 

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