Certain political actors tried to lean on the attorney-general to ‘go easy’ on bankers facing criminal charges, while at the same time they were grandstanding in public about the need to bring those culpable to justice, the attorney-general Costas Clerides has revealed.
In an interview with Phileleftheros published over the weekend, Clerides commented on the criminal cases filed relating to the 2013 financial meltdown, also remarking that corruption in the public sector is rampant.
“I was the recipient, from various quarters, of both direct and indirect interventions urging me to display leniency [against bankers],” Clerides said.
“Their main argument was that we should refrain from damaging the banks’ efforts at recovery or jeopardising economic stability. Naturally, I disregarded these interventions.”
Asked who tried to interfere, the Clerides did not name names but said:
“These interventions came from lawyers and from political persons. Persons who acted as if these interventions were not really interventions, but rather exhortations. In fact, it is these same persons who have been calling for the punishment of those implicated in the alleged offences.”
Defending against criticism that in the wake of 2013 no single banker has faced judgement – except for former Bank of Cyprus CEO Andreas Eliades who was found guilty but later acquitted – the attorney-general repeated that it is extremely difficult to make such cases stick in a court of law.
“Since 2013 I had made it clear that the collapse of the economy was not the result of the commission of criminal offences. The responsibilities are chiefly political and have to do with fiscal policy, deficiencies in supervisory control, and failure to take timely corrective action with regard to the economy.
“But in a clear attempt at shirking political responsibility and distracting public opinion, some shifted all the attention on the criminal aspect, taking advantage of the people’s outrage and demands to punish the guilty parties, whereas no one assumed any political responsibility for those events.”
Clerides weighed in on the brouhaha over conflict of interest in the justice system, where the children of supreme court judges were found to be working for law firms who were representing litigants (banks) in court cases.
The situation was brought to light by none other than Clerides’ brother, himself a lawyer.
Following the hubbub, certain steps were taken to limit the potential for conflict of interest. For instance, judges must now recuse themselves from cases where a litigant is represented by a law firm that employs a close relative – such as the child or brother – of a judge.
However, the updated code of conduct does have a loophole: the recusal of judges does not apply to cases being heard by the full bench of the supreme court.
Elsewhere in the interview, Clerides remarked that the corruption in the public sector is so widespread that it surprised even him.
“Almost everywhere throughout the public sector, where there is a question of financial gain or the potential for financial gain, corruption exists. Rarely does the public interest prevail over individual interest and, where that does occur, it is the exception rather than the rule.”
Sending the message that the days of impunity are over is the best way of tackling such corruption, Clerides said.
To an extent, he added, this has been achieved with the prosecutions – and in some cases convictions – of public figures, including the former governor of the central bank, a former minister, as well as former and current mayors.
Clerides also telegraphed that he will be stepping down next year, as he will be retiring at the age of 68.
His successor, he noted, should be someone with no ties to politics or parties.