ATTORNEY-GENERAL Costas Clerides suffered another professional embarrassment last Friday, when the Supreme Court rejected the state’s appeal against the acquittal of two Bank of Cyprus executives by the criminal court, censuring him in its decision for “abuse of process”.
The criminal court had accepted a pre-trial motion by the defence, which argued that the charges had the same basis as the previous two cases relating to the bank’s holdings in Greek government bonds – one of 2014 and one of 2015 – in which the two executives had been acquitted. The decision that the third case had the “same or substantially the same basis” as the previous two cases was upheld by the Supreme Court, which pointed out that the first two cases concluded before the third was submitted in January 2017. The citing of the “abuse of process” was a questioning of the AG’s professional competence.
Questions about his competence are justified given the record of his office, which had been given all the resources he had asked for in order to bring to justice those responsible for the collapse of banking sector and economy in 2013. Millions of euros were provided by the government so that a special server with information was set up, the number of investigators was increased and forensic experts were brought from abroad to help the investigations. When President Anastasiades voiced concerns about the slow progress of the investigations, Clerides responded that these were complicated cases that required time.
Despite being given the time and resources he demanded he failed spectacularly to deliver. The sentence he secured in the case of the Bank of Cyprus CEO Andreas Eliades was overturned on appeal. A couple of weeks ago, Limassol criminal court threw out the case brought against four men for the irregular granting of loans worth €12 million by the Ayia Fyla co-op because there was no prima facie evidence for a trial. Hearings had gone on for two years after which the court ruled that the prosecution had no case as it failed to show there was intent to deceive.
With such a poor record and questions posed about the professional competence of the AG by the Supreme Court, Clerides’ position has become untenable, but nobody is calling for his resignation. Former justice minister Ionas Nicolaou resigned, after intense public pressure, because he had to take responsibility for the police not doing their job properly. Should there not be a similar demand in the case of the AG who is personally responsible for the repeated failures of his office?
And given this abysmal record, can Clerides be trusted with handling the state’s appeal against the administrative court’s ruling on the 2012 pay cuts in the public sector? If that appeal is lost, the cost to the taxpayer will be close to a billion euros.