Cyprus Mail

No taxpayer money misused in president’s use of private jet, says report (updated)

President Nicos Anastasiades at the UN general assembly (CNA)

Public contract procedures had not been followed by the presidency when chartering aircraft, but no taxpayer money had been misused because the cost was low, an audit service report said on Friday.

The auditor launched a probe after it emerged that the presidency had used a private jet to travel to New York for the UN General Assembly last September.

It was only after the aircraft was forced to return to New York with a cracked windshield that it became known that the president had been using a private jet.

Reports at the time said the jet, a Boeing 737 800, was permanently stationed at Larnaca airport and it belonged to Saudi interests.

According to the report, in 2018 President Nicos Anastasiades travelled abroad 19 times for work and 16 times between January and September 2019.

Out of those, 14 trips were on scheduled flights, 17 on chartered flights without cost for the state, and two at a cost of €60,000 each.

Two trips involved scheduled outbound flights while the return was on chartered aircraft.

In August 2018, the president and his family travelled to the Seychelles on a private trip courtesy of the Saudi owner of the aircraft stationed at Larnaca airport.

According to the report, Anastasiades said the owner, who is his friend, offered to carry them there because the aircraft was flying to the Seychelles anyway. The return was arranged in the same manner.

“Since the use of the aircraft was part of the friendly relations the president has with the owner of the aircraft and was not an offer to the Republic of Cyprus in any way, there is no tax issue,” the report said.

Some of the president’s flights were covered by late Cypriot businessman Chris Lazari.

In June 2014, Lazari, a property mogul who lived and worked in the UK, offered to assume the cost for the use of a private jet by Anastasiades, when it was considered necessary.

In a written statement at the time, Lazari said:  “Taking into account the economic situation of my country and wanting to actively express my support to the efforts of my personal friend President Anastasiades – who has to travel abroad frequently – I decided to assume the cost for the use of a private airplane, when this is necessary, for example where there is no direct air link with Cyprus.”

According to the report, the cost was undertaken by Lazari’s heirs after his death.

As regards acceptance of free transportation, the auditor recommended that criteria should be set as to which ones should be accepted and whether the donors would be permitted to enter into contracts with the state.

“It is also our recommendation that donors and the amounts given should be made public,” the auditor said.

The presidency said the report vindicated Anastasiades and foiled yet another effort to tarnish his name.

There was no mention however, about the possibility of conflict of interest.

A written statement from the presidency said Anastasiades, recognizing the enduring problem of transportation, has decided to look into the possibility of acquiring an aircraft that will serve the needs of the country’s future leadership.

Akel said a president should not accept gifts, either relating to work trips, or family holidays to the Seychelles.

“If the president doesn’t understand this, let him refer to the famed ethics charter that he made ministers sign, which says they should reign if they accepted gifts,” party spokesman Stephanos Stephanou said.

“In any other European country, the president would have apologised to the citizens in public. At least.”


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