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Public’s trust in institutions being eroded, president says (Update 3)

MP Zacharias Koulias making a point during a committee meeting (Christos Theodorides)

The public’s trust in institutions is being eroded, President Nicos Anastasiades said on Thursday evening when asked to comment on media reveals that two veteran MPs and the environment commissioner had non-performing loans worth hundreds of thousands at the co-op bank, shuttered last year and sold to Hellenic Bank after it failed to manage some €7 billion in bad debts.

“Unfortunately with each passing day, due to shadows being cast over certain institutions, or antagonism among institutions or due to the actions of political personnel, this mistrust is constantly growing,” the president said.

Daily Politis on Thursday named Diko MP Zaharias Koulias, who is also the chairman of the House watchdog committee and apparently moonlights as a developer, as having some €300,000 in delayed obligations.

The MP, who was a partner in a construction company, Troullis and Koulias, had borrowed €2 million between 2008 and 2012 and around €1.8m between 2005 and 2007.

Koulias had failed to declare his interest when discussing related issues in parliament, the paper said.

Hitting back, the MP attributed the revelations to a smear campaign.

He accused Politis of ulterior motives, in that he and the newspaper are involved in litigation against each other.

Koulias had sued the paper for libel over a report alleging he engaged in dodgy land deals. He won the judgment, but Politis appealed the decision.

The hearing in the appeal is scheduled for this coming Monday, he added, noting that the timing of the new Politis report was “interesting.”

The MP also questioned the provenance of the information leaked to the press. It was obvious, he said, the information must have come from someone in government, since the co-op bank was until recently controlled by the state.

This is happening at a time when the current administration is feeling the heat after the release of a report on the co-op’s demise. The report assigned a significant portion of the blame on the government and the finance minister.

To divert attention away from itself, the government was now leaking compromising information about politicians who had loans with the co-op, Koulias said.

He suggested, too, that the exposure was intended to derail his bid for MEP in the upcoming European Parliament elections.

“In any case, the loans I took were done legitimately, without exception or favourable treatment, just like any other citizen.”

Asked whether he ought to have declared an interest when it came to the co-op, Koulias said no.

Although he chairs the House watchdog committee – which among other things discussed the situation at the co-op – it was normal for MPs to deal with issues of “public interest.”

Moreover, he was not obliged under the law to declare all his business affiliations or interests.

“Should parliament bring legislation mandating that everyone in the public sector disclose their income, assets and bank deposits, I will be the first to vote for it,” he said.

“But what I shall not do is play the role of the useful idiot by consenting to my private data being breached just so that the public’s sense of justice be satisfied.”

On Wednesday evening, Sigma television named Disy MP Costas Constantinou and environment commissioner Ioanna Panayiotou as having hefty loans they had not been servicing.

In 2017, Constantinou, the report said, had restructured a €2.5m loan, which had an overdue amount of €1.1m.

He too had failed to declare a potential conflict when discussing co-op related issues in parliament.

Similarly, Panayiotou had restructured a €1.4m loan which showed delays amounting to €885,000. The report said irregularities had also been detected in the application process such as failure to assess her ability to repay.

Constantinou denied ever borrowing €2.5mn.

He said years ago, his wife, himself, and their three adult children took out five loans of CYP190,000 each (€1.6mn), which were fully secured.

The loans were serviced until 2011 but because of the crisis he could not afford the instalment, he said.

The loans were restructured in 2017 after they reached €1.8mn, the MP said. The bank agreed to deduct €300,000, deemed as overcharges.

The Disy MP said he will repay his loan as soon as possible.

“There was no favouritism or discrimination,” he said, nor did he intervene in the process.

Panayiotou also said she had never received preferential treatment from a bank and the loan was not as high as the reports claimed.

“The fact that I am a political person not only didn’t help my sincere efforts to restructure, but it led to their failure exactly because I am a political person,” Panayiotou said.

Koulias also denied receiving preferential treatment, adding that he was trying to restructure the loan.

He said his company had taken out many loans and had met its obligations at all times until the economic crisis hit.

“When it terminated its operations it had to restructure,” he said.

 

 

 

 

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