Cyprus Mail

Focus trial can proceed without Zolotas and Fole, court rules

Photo: CNA Nicosia court

The Nicosia criminal court ruled Friday that a corruption trial involving the former central bank governor could continue in the absence of two other defendants, as it ruled against issuing fresh arrest warrants against them.

Greek nationals, businessman Michalis Zolotas, and former banker Michalis Fole, were acquitted of the charges against them in August last year after the criminal court ruled the arrest warrants against them had been illegal.

The supreme court reversed the decision in December, upholding an appeal filed by the attorney-general, and ordered the trial against them to continue.

Zolotas and Fole failed to appear in court early this year with their defence saying they had resorted to courts in Greece and Romania to have the initial European arrest warrants annulled.

Zolotas and Fole were arrested in Greece and Romania, respectively, in late October 2016.

Defence lawyer Andreas Louka told the court the procedures were ongoing, and he requested that the trial continued in their absence.

Louka argued that his clients were overseas permanent residents with work in Greece and Romania and could not cope with the cost of the frequent trips to Cyprus to attend the procedure.

The state objected to the request, asking the court to issue fresh arrest warrants against them to compel them to attend.

State prosecutor Andreas Aristides said the presence of a defendant during trial was not only a right but an obligation.

Of the court’s concern that the process of issuing fresh warrants would further delay they already lengthy trial, Aristides said the state would ensure they were expedited.

The criminal court eventually decided it would be to the best interest of justice to go on without the pair, insisting that seeking their arrest would cause further delays.

“The arrest warrants would be impossible to execute immediately or in relatively short time since the assistance of Greece and Romania would be needed involving procedures, which could end up being time-consuming or endless in case they are not located in a timely manner,” the court said.

“The case has been before the court for a long time; the trial started in May 2018 after ruling on various pre-trial issues,” it added.

The trial is set to continue on March 5.

Zolotas is the owner of Focus Maritime Corporation, which paid €1m to a company connected to former central bank governor Christodoulou, AC Christodoulou Consultants Ltd, thought to have been used as a slush fund to bribe state officials and political parties.

Fole is the person who managed Focus’ account at a Laiki branch in Marousi, a suburb of Athens.

The prosecution maintains that Zolotas’ Focus acted as a front for former Laiki Bank strongman Andreas Vgenopoulos, who bribed Christodoulou to look the other way while he irregularly acquired a controlling stake in Laiki in 2006.

On October 3, 2016 Zolotas along with Fole and two others – Vgenopoulos (now deceased) and associate Kyriacos Magiras – failed to show up during a hearing before Nicosia district court, with the judge issuing an arrest warrant against them.

The Greek supreme court upheld a request in 2017 not to extradite Magiras to Cyprus.

Christodoulou, daughter Athina Christodoulou, Zolotas, Fole, and companies AC Christodoulou Consultants Ltd, Marfin Investment Group (MIG), and Focus Maritime Corp. face a total of 24 charges including corruption, bribery, abuse of authority, abuse of trust, and money laundering.

Zolotas faces a single count relating to money laundering.

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