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Our View: Frequent denials do not help Anastasiades’ credibility

President Nicos Anastasiades

IN AN ATTEMPT to close the matter of President Anastasiades’ use of the Saudi Arab investor’s private jet, government spokesman Kyriakos Kousios issued a long statement in which, among other things he said the two met after the investor had “obtained Cypriot citizenship at a CIPA public event.” This was factually wrong. The investor and his family were granted citizenship in January 2015, but he was also here in June 2014, when he publicly said: “Thank-you to all those that were with me these days, for the hospitality the Archbishop, the President of the Republic. All wonderful people, I had a very good time.”

Had Anastasiades forgotten the dates – it was five-and-a-half years ago – that a meeting took place before the CIPA dinner or was he trying to counter the observation in the auditor-general’s report that the application of the Saudi Arab investor should have been turned down because the criteria had not been satisfied. If the president had not known the investor, until after citizenship was granted, he could not be accused of giving preferential treatment with regard to the application. We will not find out if it was a mistake or an attempt to mislead because the spokesman declared the matter closed after his statement.

This presidential habit of trying to fix things he has done or said in retrospect, with new versions of events or by dogmatic, public denials, works cumulatively at undermining his credibility and trustworthiness. And when he is caught being economical with the truth, as in the case above, more people are inclined not to believe his version of events. There is a growing number of examples one of the most glaring being the government’s antics surrounding the so-called Guterres framework.

The official line, ever since the conference in Crans Montana, was that the valid version of the framework was the one Anastasiades’ representatives ‘finalised’ with the UN on July 4 and not the one read out by the UNSG on June 30. Last year the government made a big issue out of this, demanding the UN produced the minutes of the July 4 meeting and accused the UN of having lost them. There were no minutes though, because there was only one Guterres framework – of June 30 – while the government’s insistence on the existence of an amended version turned out to be wishful thinking rather than an accurate interpretation of reality. It suffices to say, that at the meeting with the UNSG and Mustafa Akinci in Berlin last November there was agreement new talks would be based on the Guterres framework of June 30.

Three days ago, during the Andros Kyprianou – Averof Neophytou television debate a journalist asked the former whether he had heard information that Anastasiades had ordered close associates to prepare plans for dividing the EEZ with the Turkish Cypriots. Kyprianou said he had also heard this information. The government spokesman immediately dismissed this as a “figment of the imagination.” On Friday Anastasiades, said this was a joke and asked “which expediency is served and who benefits from reproducing the unfounded claim regarding supposed thoughts of mine to partition the Cypriot EEZ at a time when Turkish drills and warships act as modern pirates?”

What if Anastasiades had asked for the study before the Turks began acting like modern pirates? As Akel reminded, citing a statement he made in January 2018, the president had toyed with the idea of dividing the EEZ, even though he qualified it by saying “this is a theory considered only by the Turks, not us.” If he could bring up the idea in public, why was it impossible that he had asked an associate to draw plans about it?

Nobody knows whether to believe what the president says now because denying positions attributed to him has become a very frequent. He has also denied he proposed a two-state solution at a private meeting with Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu at Crans Montana; he denied telling a delegation of Famagustans that partition was preferable to a federation, after the news was out, a view he nevertheless repeated at a council of ministers meeting, many months later, and to at least one party leader after his re-election. Given his private support for a two-state solution, seeking a plan for dividing the EEZ would be perfectly consistent with his objective.

We have come to a point at which we do not know what to believe. Anastasiades has nobody but himself to blame for his self-inflicted low credibility and trustworthiness, which we fear is not confined to Cyprus but has also been noted at the UN and the European Commission. This cannot be good for the Cyprus Republic and much less so for its president.

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