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Defence seeks to undermine case against former CBC governor

Former central bank governor Christodoulos Christodoulou

In the Nicosia criminal court, the defence on Tuesday sought to undermine the case brought by the state against former Central Bank governor Christodoulos Christodoulou, the key figure in an ongoing corruption trial.

Taking the stand were two police officers who investigated the case, which centres on the allegation that Christodoulou was bribed to the tune of €1m to look the other way while Greek financier Andreas Vgenopoulos – now deceased – took control of Laiki Bank in 2006.

Laiki was shuttered in 2013.

The €1m in question was paid by Focus Maritime Corp, owned by Greek businessman Michalis Zolotas, an associate of Vgenopoulos, into the account of a consulting firm technically owned by Christodoulou’s daughter.

Christodoulou’s daughter, her firm AC Christodoulou Consultants Ltd and Zolotas are also defendants in the case.

On Tuesday, during cross-examination defence attorney Efstathios Efstathiou grilled sergeant Philippos Violantis, a witness for the prosecution.

The witness had taken part in the police investigations.

Efstathiou pointed out that Christodoulou has already been found guilty and sentenced for the €1m for not declaring this income to tax authorities.

For tax evasion, the former Central Bank governor had been sentenced to five months in jail, while his daughter’s consultancy had been fined €13,500.

Responding, Violantis said the attorney-general had deemed it appropriate to prosecute two separate cases – one for tax evasion and one (the current one) for corruption.

Efstathiou then asked the sergeant whether he thought this was “fair.” The prosecution objected, saying the witness was there to present the facts of the case, not to opine on the attorney-general’s decisions.

The objection was sustained.

Pressing on, the defence lawyer zeroed in on the charge sheet, which states the offences were committed between February 2006 and September 21, 2009.

The charge sheet, he added, does not specify the precise date on which the €1m was transferred to the consultancy firm.

This, Efstathiou argued, was done deliberately by the prosecution, in order to convey the impression that the alleged bribery was committed during the time that Christodoulou was governor of the Central Bank.

But in reality, he added, the money was transferred on July 27, 2007, when Christodoulou had already quit the Central Bank. Christodoulou retired on April 30 of the same year, going on to join his daughter’s consultancy firm, to which he provided various services.

There was another reason the timeframe on the charge sheet was so broad, Efstathiou posited. It had to do with the extradition of Michalis Fole, another defendant, to Cypriot authorities.

Fole, a former Laiki official, was handed over by Romanian authorities in late 2016.

Under Romanian law, the statute of limitations for this type of offence is eight years. Therefore, said Efstathiou, since the alleged offence occurred in 2007, the statute of limitations would have taken effect in 2015, at which time Fole would not be subject to extradition.

However, by broadening the charge sheet to cover the period until September 2009, the prosecution was able to circumvent that statute of limitations and seek Fole’s extradition.

Responding to the defence attorney, the witness said he had no part in compiling the indictments.

Taking the stand next was CID sergeant Nicos Tomas, a member of the police unit tasked with probing the 2013 financial meltdown.

Tomas testified that he took depositions from a number of individuals, including former Laiki employees and journalists covering financial news.

He also received documents and digital material relating to interviews given by Vgenopoulos.

The trial continues. The prosecution is expected to summon several journalists as witnesses.

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

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