Cyprus Mail

Investigators on soldier’s 2005 death say ‘criminal acts’ were committed (Update 2)

thanasis nicolaou report
Savvas Matsas handing the report to Attorney-general Giorgos Savvides last month (Christos Theodorides)

Criminal acts were committed in the case of national guardsman Thanasis Nicolaou who died in 2005, one of the investigators charged with the third inquiry said on Thursday.

The findings into the circumstances leading to the death of Nicolaou were handed to Attorney-general Giorgos Savvides early in the morning.

The 92-page report into the murky case of Nicolaou, who was found dead under a bridge in Limassol 17 years ago, may give Savvides grounds to proceed with a criminal case – but so far, the findings have not been made public.

Nicolaou’s mother has been unrelenting on the matter as she never believed the narrative that her son had committed suicide, instead pointing to fellow army mates as having bullied Nicolaou.

“My martyrdom has been vindicated,” the mother told the media shortly after a criminal investigator stated that he had found evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

“For 17 years, they let the moral instigators and perpetrators of this crime roam free,” she added.

The mother also demanded that she be given the report, arguing that ultimately it had been thanks to her own efforts that the case was resurrected.

Savvas Matsas – one of the two criminal investigators who worked on the latest report – was asked whether criminal acts were committed in the case, to which he said: “That I can answer, yes.”

Asked, however, as to whether there is criminal liability – and if so against how many people – Matsas said that it is now up to the attorney-general to decide as to how to proceed.

“We have handed over our report, we have made some suggestions on this issue but for further details it is more appropriate to ask the attorney general,” Matsas said.

Citing sources, state broadcaster CyBC said the dossier points the finger at four individuals – three former police officers and a civilian. If accurate, this could relate to an earlier judgment by the European Court of Human Rights (Echr) which stated that Cypriot police had bungled the initial investigation into the young soldier’s death.

For their part, the attorney-general’s office stated later in the day that the next steps will include a review of the report by the legal services after which decisions will be made by the AG.

Savvides told reporters that: “As I have said, I wish we could turn back time 17 years so that a proper investigation could have been carried out when the events were more recent.”

The third investigation was launched after coroners in Athens examined the 26-year-old’s exhumed remains and separately concluded that Nicolaou was strangled, as his hyoid bone (Adam’s apple), initially recorded as undamaged, was found to have been broken.

Nicolaou was found dead under a bridge in Alassa, Limassol, about 12 kilometres from his home and barracks. He was meant to report back to his unit after an overnight leave.

His death had been ruled a suicide by authorities, a finding fiercely disputed by his family who have been fighting ever since to find out the truth.

Last year, a court ordered Nicolaou’s exhumation and his bones were sent to Greece for examination.

A pathologist representing the state has also examined the remains, but his findings have not been made public.

Nicolaou’s mother Andriana, said her son had been bullied but had misgivings about reporting it to his superiors. After finally having papers thrown in his face by fellow soldiers, Nicolaou filed a complaint to his commanding officer.

Although the bullying claims were examined by the police during the initial investigation, statements had not been taken from all the soldiers serving in his unit.

In February last year, the Echr ruled that authorities had botched the investigation into Nicolaou’s death.

“The court finds that the foregoing considerations are sufficient to establish that the domestic authorities failed to carry out an effective investigation into the circumstances surrounding Mr Nicolaou’s death and accordingly that there has been a violation of the procedural aspect of Article 2 of the Convention,” the Echr said.

According to the Echr ruling, the root of the problem lay in the initial police investigation which “was marred by a number of significant shortcomings.”

A fact acknowledged both by the investigators appointed by the cabinet and the attorney-general later on.

“The court observes that it emerges from the case file that the entire initial police investigation was from the very beginning conducted on the premise that this was a simple case of an unnatural death and that Mr Nicolaou had most likely taken his own life, never seriously questioning this premise or endeavouring to verify any other possible scenario. As a consequence, the investigation was not carried out by experienced criminal police investigators with forensic experience and the line of investigation was limited, leading to oversights and, as many questions were left unanswered, a tenuous conclusion.”


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