By George Psyllides
Attorney-General Costas Clerides on Wednesday appealed a decision by the Nicosia criminal court to halt proceedings against two defendants in the Focus corruption trial after the supreme court cancelled Cypriot arrest warrants issued against them in 2016.
The appeal followed the decision the same day by the court that the trial of businessman Michalis Zolotas and former banker Michalis Fole, both Greek nationals, cannot continue following the supreme court decision.
The reasoning, according to the court, was that the process had started in violation of the fundamental right to freedom “by forcing them to appear before the court based on the arrest warrants cancelled by the supreme court plenum,” in July.
Following the decision, the two men left the courtroom, as the procedure resumed for former central bank governor Christodoulos Christodoulou, his daughter Athina, and companies ΑC Christodoulou Consultants Ltd, Marfin Investment Group and Focus Maritime Corp.
The warrants had been issued by Nicosia district court after the two men failed to show up at a procedure where they were set to be referred to a criminal trial.
Zolotas and Fole were arrested in Greece and Romania, respectively, in late October 2016.
Zolotas is the owner of Focus Maritime Corporation, which paid €1m to a company connected to Christodoulou, AC Christodoulou Consultants Ltd, thought to have been used as a slush fund to bribe state officials and political parties.
Fole is the person who managed Focus’ account at a Laiki branch in Marousi, a suburb of Athens.
The prosecution maintains that Zolotas’ Focus acted as a front for former Laiki Bank strongman Andreas Vgenopoulos, who bribed Christodoulou to look the other way while Vgenopoulos irregularly acquired a controlling stake in Laiki in 2006.
On October 3, 2016 Zolotas along with Fole and two others – Vgenopoulos (now deceased) and associate Kyriacos Magiras – failed to show up during a hearing before Nicosia district court, with the judge issuing an arrest warrant against them.
The two men appealed the arrest warrants and the supreme court accepted their position that the warrants at the time were null and void, given that the defendants were served the charge sheets in a foreign country – Greece and Romania.
The two men were thus under no legal obligation to appear in a Cypriot court, and the court issuing the arrest warrants had acted beyond its legal authority.