The foreign ministry used funds for the enlightenment of the Cyprus problem to finance a group formed to participate in a series of marathons for two years, an auditor-general’s report revealed on Friday.

In its report on the audit of the foreign ministry, the auditor-general requested the response of current Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides on the issue. It said the service received complaints in March 2022, that the foreign ministry had been funding a team called ‘MFA and Friends’ using funds for the national problem enlightenment.

The complaints concerned the period when current presidential candidate Nikos Christodoulides was serving as foreign minister.

According to the minister’s response, the group was formed “to strengthen the ministry’s relations with foreign diplomatic missions based in Nicosia…with a view to participating in the Logicom Cyprus Marathon which took place on 17 March 2019.” The group later seems to have participated in other marathons held in Paphos, Nicosia, Limassol and Larnaca in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022 respectively, Kasoulides added.

Foreign ministry officials and their families, as well as diplomats based in Cyprus participated in the group.

Although the group itself did not receive any money or sponsorship, the ministry said the enlightenment budget was used to cover expenses that related to the preparation, promotion and participation of the team in the marathons for the years 2018-2021.

Specifically, the money was used to buy T-shirts and meals for the team, create advertising panels and cover photography and transport costs.

This was done for two years before the criteria for the specific fund was broadened in January 2020 to include activities relating to communication and public diplomacy, as well as aspects of economic and cultural diplomacy.

However, the minister believes the issue lies in the decision to broaden the eligibility criteria.

Kasoulides added he plans to reinstate a special committee to examine requests for the use of the specific fund solely for the Cyprus issue. Since the entire budget was not used in previous years, a new budget can be created, the minister said, to fund activities that fall in the areas of communications, public, digital, economic and cultural diplomacy.

“This would avoid using the enlightenment budget for activities that do not fall within the purpose of the fund,” the minister said.

Among other findings, the report also looked at the use of €2,000 from the fund to support the work of the Cyprus diplomatic ladies and spouses association for the years 2019 and 2021. The association is a legal entity that gives the opportunity to diplomatic and consular community members to get to know each other and gain a better understanding of the island.

“Hence, the value of the association’s activities from the point of view of enlightenment is obvious,” the minister added.