Justice minister Ionas Nicolaou was on Monday facing down calls that he step down, on the back of reports that under his watch police bungled investigations into at least two missing Filipino women – since found dead – and following revelations that he disregarded warnings about disappearing domestic workers months ago.
Main opposition Akel said that Nicolaou as well as the police chief ought to have resigned on their own, after what now appears to have been tantamount to criminal negligence on the part of law enforcement.
“This is one occasion where, frankly, I wish I were an ordinary citizen and not a party leader so that I might express myself as I’d really like to,” said Akel chief Andros Kyprianou.
“Our grief…is compounded by the manner in which the police and the justice minister are seeking to justify their actions after the fact. They are still behaving in this way, even when they have displayed not only criminal negligence but have also apparently contributed to additional crimes taking place.”
Kyprianou was alluding to media reports that police had failed to follow the trail behind the disappearance of Mary Rose Tiburcio last May. Shortly after she went missing, another Filipino woman likewise vanished.
A male suspect, currently in police custody – but only after the women’s bodies were recently found in a mine shaft – has been linked to both cases, suggesting police might have averted the second crime had they properly investigated Tiburcio’s case.
The Solidarity Movement likewise demanded that the justice minister quit.
With the affair dominating the news cycle, reporters asked the government spokesman whether the justice minister and the police chief would be held to book.
Spokesman Prodromos Prodromou demurred, responding: “It goes without saying that we are truly shocked by what we are finding out.
“But while police investigations are ongoing it would be unwise to make any further comments. Once investigations are complete, you will hear from both the [justice] minister and the government.”
Meanwhile earlier in the day, Nicolaou released a statement denying he ever had any communication with Louis Koutroukides, the head of the domestic workers’ association.
“I would like to clarify that we never had any contact, be it by phone or mail, concerning the matter in question.”
He was responding to allegations made by Koutroukides, who in an opinion piece in Politis published last August was pleading with authorities to pay attention to the fate of domestic workers who go missing.
In that impassioned appeal addressed to Nicolaou himself, Koutroukides was warning of the likelihood that a number of those domestic workers may have fallen prey to foul play.
Appearing on news outlets on Monday, Koutroukides said no one bothered to get in touch with him after the opinion piece.
Only on Monday, he said, did the justice minister finally call him to ask whether he had sent him a letter.
During the phone conversation Nicolaou is said to have told Koutroukides that “we have people in the ministry who monitor and look into these things,” referring to the column published in Politis.
Speaking to Politis, Koutroukides charged that, whenever a Filipino housemaid goes missing, police automatically assume she must have crossed over to the north, and leave the case at that.
To his knowledge, over the past two to three years, 22 domestic workers have gone missing.
He cited the example of one Filipino woman who disappeared in December 2017. Someone later found her identity card on a street.
Five months earlier, another Filipino had gone to Larnaca airport with her daughter, to meet up with a man she had met on a dating site.
Both she and her daughter disappeared after that. Again, when Koutroukides made enquiries, the police guessed that the woman probably went to the north.
“But if she went to the north supposedly, what was she doing at Larnaca airport?” he asked.
When Koutroukides went to the police to inquire about Tiburcio’s disappearance, a police officer in Limassol told him: “You’re 70 years old and you’re fretting about a Filipino woman? She’s gone to the north with her boyfriend and you’re still looking for her.”
Despairing at the apathy, at one point Koutroukides wrote to former foreign minister Nicos Rolandis, asking that he liaise to bring him in touch with a politician so they could speak about the matter in general.
“I had to use a connection just to get to talk to someone. I was told an effort would be made to arrange for me a meeting with [Disy leader] Averof Neophytou, but it never happened.”