THERE seems to be no end in sight to the saga about the list of Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) with non-performing loans (NPLs), which the House watchdog committee discusses inconclusively every week. On Thursday, the governor of the Central Bank of Cyprus Constantinos Herodotou appeared at the committee to answer deputies’ questions but the meeting was ended abruptly by the House President Demetris Syllouris, who was chairing it, because a row erupted after a Disy deputy used threatening language against an Akel colleague.
Before the premature adjournment, three deputies came clean about the NPLs they had while a fourth asked Herodotou if she was on the list so she could prepare her answers. One of the three was the chairman of committee, Diko deputy Zacharias Koulias, who defended himself in a rather petulant way. “I am on all the lists and I am an arch-thief,” he said before disingenuously asking whether it was a crime for someone to owe money when half the population owed money.
The wily Koulias was deflecting attention from what the real issue was – his shabby behaviour. He had used his position as chairman of committee to prevent discussion and disclosure of the list because he wanted to conceal the fact that he was a PEP with NPLs. Koulias has been at pains to suppress this information since 2015 when he reported the former Central Bank governor, Chrystalla Geoghadji, to the police. She had announced she had a list of PEPs with bad debts and Koulias gave a statement to police claiming she was violating bank confidentiality that was a criminal offence. No crime was committed as Georghadji had not released the information.
Last year, Herodotou had twice written to the committee, informing it he could present the list to it only if he were officially asked to do so and both times was ignored by Koulias – the first letter was sent in July and kept secret by Koulias and House president Demetris Syllouris. Only when deputies found out about a second letter – sent in November – that was ignored did they make a fuss and demanded the governor be invited to the committee. Even then, Koulias and Syllouris argued against this happening.
Koulias behaved disgracefully in failing to declare his interest while carrying on chairing the committee meetings. In any parliament, with a code of ethical behaviour, he would have asked another deputy to chair the meetings about the PEP list, because he had a personal interest in the matter. Admittedly, it is too much to expect from someone who actually used his position to suppress information that would have harmed him personally, even if he had committed no crime, as he said, in not repaying his loans.
What is worse is that the House president, the person that is meant to uphold the standards of the legislature, has not only endorsed Koulias’ shabby behaviour but he has also shown he fully approves of deputies not declaring their interests and suppressing information out of self-interest.