The Treasury, which is headed by the wife of the owner of an embattled slaughterhouse, had stopped the agriculture ministry from cashing a cheque representing a guarantee of faithful execution of an agreement after the company failed to honour a 2015 animal waste processing contract, a report said on Friday.
Daily Politis said the Treasury, headed by Rea Georgiou, had given instructions for the €54,000 cheque to be withdrawn immediately, just hours after it was deposited in the government account.
Politis said the House watchdog committee was briefed about the case by Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides on Thursday. The withdrawal raised suspicions and the auditor had informed former attorney-general Costas Clerides to investigate.
The slaughterhouse and animal waste management company Cypra is in hot water after over 100 staff tested positive for the coronavirus because the company had failed to follow protocols, according to the health minister.
It later transpired that most of the cases were asylum seekers who were illegally employed and who lived in prefabricated housing on the property in Kato Moni, in the district of Nicosia.
The company has also been taken to court over a number of building code violations.
According to Politis, in December 2015, Cypra signed a one-year €540,000 agreement with the veterinary services for the treatment and disposal of animal by-products with the possibility of renewal for one more year.
The deal came into force the day it was signed but the start of its execution was set within six months at the latest provided that Cypra had secured all the necessary permits.
As part of the deal, the company deposited a letter of guarantee for €54,000, or 10 per cent of the contract. The letter was valid between December 23, 2015 and October 4, 2017.
However, the company managed to receive successive extensions, the latest on March 10, 2017, in a bid to secure the necessary permits that would allow the agreement to be activated.
Following the advice of the Legal Service, the agriculture ministry decided to liquidate the letter of guarantee because the company had not complied with its contractual obligations.
The cheque was issued by the bank on September 10, 2017 and two days later, at 8.15am, it was deposited in the government account by the veterinary services.
On the same day, at 1.12pm, the owner of Cypra informed the veterinary services that he had secured an injunction, which prohibited the liquidation of the cheque pending a lawsuit he had filed against the state.
Politis said suspicions were raised about the potential involvement of the treasurer after a senior official of the department called the ministry of agriculture accountants shortly after the injunction was issued – and without the department being informed of the court decision — and asked them to withdraw the cheque immediately before it was cashed. A vet services official went to the bank and cancelled the cheque, Politis said.
The attorney-general ordered a disciplinary probe against the senior treasury official who made the phone call but its findings were never made public.
The official in question was recently promoted, Politis said. Cypra eventually lost the court case and the money in June last year.
The treasurer did not immediately respond to a call and text message seeking comment.