Sometimes it is difficult to know whether state officials think through the things they say or even if they are capable of doing so. Attorney-general Costas Clerides is usually careful in this respect, frequently issuing written statements about matters relating to his office that have been the subject of public debate. As the state’s legal advisor he has an obligation to choose his words carefully, and ensure there are no holes in the argument he makes to explain or defend a decision he has taken.
Things are different when people are speaking off the cuff, because they do not have an opportunity to revisit and review what they say as they do when preparing a written statement. Politicians are much more comfortable at speaking in public and answering questions because they have a lot of practice. But even when they contradict themselves or put forward an argument that makes little sense or ignores factual reality there is no cost for them as people expect them to speak in this way.
People, however, have different expectations of the attorney-general, a top-rank state official and, understandably, do not expect him to speak with the carelessness of a politician. In an interview published in Phileleftheros on Sunday, Clerides did exactly that. He said, among other things: “In relation, especially to criminal cases related to the situation of the economy and the banks, I must mention that I was the recipient from various sides of both direct and indirect interference in order not to show strictness, the basic argument being avoiding causing harm to the efforts of improving the banks and economic stability in general. Interference that of course I did not take into account.”
But was it enough not to take into account the interference, which was in violation of criminal code? Article 122 (b) of the code clearly states that “any person who engages in any act, calculated, or which is likely to obstruct, or in any way interfere with, any judicial proceedings or any police investigation that is conducted in order for judicial proceedings to be initiated or any investigation conducted pursuant of to the provisions of any legislation, is guilty of a misdemeanour and is liable to imprisonment for three years.”
Why had the AG not enforced the law, even in cases (mentioned in the interview) “of requests for showing, for example, leniency”? One of his predecessors, the late Solon Nikitas brought charges against a minister of the Papadopoulos government for interfering in the course of justice, after she had written to a judge asking for leniency to be shown to a drug offender that was going through a rehabilitation programme. The minister was convicted even though the decision was overturned on appeal.
Clerides should have acted in the same way, when faced with interference in cases that were being investigated or before the courts. It just does not give the correct impression for the AG to admit that he had personally witnessed violations of the law but chose not to do anything against the offenders.