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Co-op inquiry chair quits other posts to ‘save his dignity’ (updated)

Former supreme court judge Giorgos Arestis

The chairman of the panel that investigated the collapse of the co-operative bank has resigned from two government bodies, citing his revulsion at the government’s scorn of the probe’s findings.

Giorgos Aresti quit his position from a council dealing with the disciplinary control of financial auditors, informing the government that he was leaving due to “prior commitments.” He also recently resigned from an agency tasked with sanctioning companies (banning them from bidding for public contracts) found to have engaged in corrupt practices.

However, Aresti has since confirmed to local media that the real reason is the anger he feels over the government’s “disparaging” comments over the findings of the co-op probe, released earlier this month.
Speaking to the state broadcaster on Tuesday, the former supreme court judge said he felt “insulted” by the remarks of President Nicos Anastasiades and Finance Minister Harris Georgiades subsequent to the probe’s release.

He spoke of an effort by the government to “deconstruct” the work of the committee of inquiry, and asked what is the purpose of holding an inquiry when the government does not respect the findings or casts aspersions on the panel members themselves.

Aresti was airing his grievances, apparently triggered by a dismissive remark made a day earlier by the government spokesman. When asked about Aresti’s resignation from the two government bodies, the spokesman merely said that “each person is free to make their own choices.”

“The government had made its choice, Aresti is resigning, a replacement will have to be found,” he said on Tuesday.

In comments to daily Phileleftheros, Aresti explained: “I do have other prior commitments, but this alone did not determine my decision. What has transpired – the doubting of not only the committee of inquiry but also of me personally – left me no choice but to resign [from the two government bodies]. For me, it was a matter of dignity.”

President Anastasiades and his government have disputed the findings of the committee, which held the finance minister mainly responsible for the co-op bank’s collapse under the weight of some €7bn in bad debts and its sale to Hellenic Bank.

Anastasiades said he did not feel compelled to accept the findings “just because three people… who did not substantiate what they said, decided so.”

The president had added: “I hear criticism that the president is to blame because he hasn’t sacked the minister. And I ask: would the non-performing loans have been reduced if I dismissed him? Was the minister expected to go around collecting the NPLs?”

Anastasiades said no one was beyond criticism, including court decisions.

He added that he had the right to disagree with a report compiled by a “judge and two former bankers.”

Other political parties were quick to jump on the resignations to launch digs at the government for its stance on the report’s findings.

“There was an effort to belittle both the three-member body of the council and its findings,” general secretary of main opposition party Akel Andros Kyprianou said, adding that Aresti’s resignation was an act of “dignity”.

The resignation of Aresti “constitutes a slap” to the government, head of the Green party Giorgos Perdikis said.

Diko said that rather than seeing the resignation of those that the report showed to be responsible for the collapse of the Co-op bank, the person who identified the responsible persons is being forced to resign.

The co-op committee of inquiry was appointed by the attorney-general in June 2018. Chaired by Aresti, its two other members were economist Giorgos Charalambous, a former Bank of Cyprus executive, and Giorgos Georgiou, a former executive at Alpha Bank and former chairman of the bank association.

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