Cyprus Mail
CM Regular Columnist Opinion

Coronavirus panic is a good time to bury scandals

Malaysian businessman Jho Taek Low

ONE OF the many negatives of the pandemic is that the deep state in Cyprus will bury the recent scandals more easily and quietly while everyone’s attention is focused on fighting the coronavirus.

A big scandal that seems destined to be forgotten is not just political but also moral and relates to the ‘payment’ made to Archbishop Chrysostomos by the alleged Malaysian fraudster Jho Taek Low. We all know the archbishop intervened so that Low could secure EU citizenship. Despite the fact that in 2014 the government had re-evaluated the criteria for the citizenship-by-investment scheme and introduced very strict conditions for ‘special case’ citizenships, in the case of Low they were not adhered to. And it has become abundantly clear that the reason they were ignored was because the archbishop intervened.

For this service rendered, Low paid the archbishop €310,000 in 2015. Since then though, it has been revealed that the Malaysian businessman had allegedly stolen more than $4 billion from 1MDB (Malaysian Development Berhad), a Malaysian state organisation responsible for the long-term economic development of the country. He is not only wanted in Malaysia but also in several other countries where he allegedly defrauded companies.

Therefore, the reward pocketed by the archbishop was from allegedly stolen funds. The Australian actress Miranda Kerr, who once was in a relationship with Low, gave a lesson in morality to the archbishop. In 2017, when the alleged fraud was revealed, Kerr handed over to the US police diamonds and other jewellery worth millions of dollars that Low had bought with 1MDB money. Receiving stolen goods constitutes a crime.

Chapter 154 of the Cyprus Republic’s criminal code states: “Whoever accepts or holds property they know has been stolen or was obtained in any way under circumstances that constitute a crime or a misdemeanour, is guilty of a criminal offence of the same degree (felony or misdemeanour) and is liable to – a) in the case of felony to five year in prison; b) in the case of a misdemeanour to two years in prison.”

In any country with rule of law, where equality before the law was not just a figure of speech, the archbishop would have been dragged to court charged with receiving stolen goods. Not in Cyprus though. The deep state of which the archbishop is a pillar ensures the silence of the lambs prevails.

Another potential scandal that we should not forget relates to the cancellation of the discussion at a House committee of the notorious list with the names of deputies who had non-performing loans, which amounted to €35 million – a huge sum for what is said to be a small group of deputies. The case is pretty clear. Exactly a year ago, the outgoing governor of the central bank Chrystalla Georghadji delivered the infamous list to House president Demetris Syllouris.

We eagerly waited for the day we believed would be the dawn of the era of transparency and equality. The discussion of the list, we surmised, would be a matter of days or of a few weeks. It would also reveal which loans had been written off. It was not to be. Syllouris, together with the chairman of the ethics committee Zacharias Koulias, thought up legal obstacles and managed to put off the discussion, giving the impression that their intention was to prevent the discussion that it would eventually be forgotten.

It is worth noting that the present central bank governor Constantinos Herodotou, in a letter he had sent to the House last July, said there was no legal obstacle to making public the names on the list. Now that everyone’s attention is on the coronavirus the two above-mentioned protagonists of the case, as well as deputies (some, admittedly have owned up to being on the list) must be very happy. This looks like another cover-up to add to the Republic’s poor record. The conclusion is depressing: the House does align itself with public feeling, thus reinforcing the impression to the average Cypriot that political personnel in reality constitutes a caste that is primarily concerned with maintaining its privileges, and not with serving the public interest.

And finally the other scandal – which of course is not the last – relates to football. Three months ago, Europol – responsible for dealing with serious crime in the EU – published a report saying that footballers were part of a criminal network that ran football clubs in several countries, one of which was Cyprus, in order to avoid paying taxes. Regarding Cyprus, it was said that “prominent representatives of football” arranged fictitious transfers of players through a Cyprus football club in order to launder large amounts of money for big rewards for these services. Whereas in other democratic countries such an item of news would have sent shock waves across society, here it went almost unnoticed.

There are also the reports by Spanish newspaper El Confidencial which stated referees extensively fixed games in Cyprus. A Spanish former player who played in the first division mentioned four matches in the 2017/18 season that gave authorities enough evidence to document a case of match-rigging. I am sure nothing will come of this either as it involved big first division clubs which are also protected by the deep state.

George Koumoullis is an economist and social scientist


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