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Our View: Reports into jet use show president had no regard for ethics

President Nicos Anastasiades

It pleases nobody to read the two reports by Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides, released on Friday, as they reveal a disregard for ethical behaviour by the head of state and complete blindness to the issue of conflict of interest.

One report was about the trips by President Anastasiades in a private jet owned by a Saudi Arabian businessmen and the other about the citizenships granted to the same businessman, his two brothers, three friends and their families, which totalled 36 passports.

In his report about the citizenships Michaelides pointed out that “approval of the application was not in line with the criteria in force on the date of the examination and consequently the citizenship application should have been rejected.” The report said that less money had been spent, the investment was over-valued and had been made through a company owned jointly by the six primary applicants rather than by each one separately. It also found that no income tax declarations had been submitted.

As regards the use by Anastasiades of the private jet, owned by the Saudi Arabian businessman’s company, the auditor-general found nothing reprehensible given that the cost for the president’s trips were not paid by the taxpayer. Procedures used for arranging flights might not have been the correct ones, but as the taxpayer was not picking up the bills, Michaelides could not pursue the matter. It is not the auditor-general’s job to issue judgments on the president’s code of ethics.

The president’s assistants said the bills for the use of the Saudi Boeing were settled by the estate of the late Cypriot billionaire Chris Lazari, who was a friend of Anstasiades, as if this were perfectly normal behaviour. No evidence of the payments by Lazari’s estate was provided to the auditor-general.

But even if the president’s flights on the Saudi-owned jet cost the taxpayer nothing there are still ethical issues raised. The owner of the jet and 35 other individuals were granted Cypriot citizenship without satisfying the criteria but their applications were not rejected said the auditor-general. The president and his family had been flown free of charge to the Seychelles and back in 2018 in the businessman’s jet. The bills for the president’s trips were being picked up by the Lazari estate, but we do not know if the Saudi businessman was hiring out his Boeing at bargain rates as a favour to Anastasiades.

Whatever Anastasiades may say in his defence, the fact is that he put himself in a compromising position, completely ignoring the code of ethics charter that he made his ministers sign in 2018, which states that members of the government “are obliged to act with absolute objectivity, but also dispel every suspicion of personal interest.”


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