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Bases court rejects Cyprus’ transfer request

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In an apparent jurisdictional spat, a British Bases court has rejected Cypriot authorities’ request that they put on trial two people arrested in the summer after Sovereign Base Areas police and officers of Cyprus’ Drug Squad Ykan seized about 18kg of cocaine hidden in a fruit container.

On July 22 Ykan was tipped off by Greek authorities that they had located at Greece’s Piraeus port a container with bananas from Ecuador bound for Limassol port, with 17.5kg of cocaine which were seized and substituted with dummy packages.

Cypriot authorities agreed to cooperate with a controlled delivery of the container. By July 26 the container had arrived at Limassol and had been transported (by road) to the premises of Amalthia Trading Ltd at Asomatos within the Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs), where it was placed under joint surveillance, Cypriot police having informed SBA police.

In the early hours of July 31, SBA police arrested two persons who, having broken the wire fencing of the premises, entered and located the container in the yard. Then one of the persons opened the container’s compressor department where the packages were stored and began handing them to the other suspect.

Subsequently, a Limassol court issued an arrest warrant for the two suspects relating to the charge of conspiracy to commit a felony as well as importation and possession of narcotics and money laundering. Cypriot authorities applied to the SBA for a ‘removal hearing’ – different to an extradition hearing – to have the suspects transferred into the custody of the Republic.

Both suspects are Greek Cypriots. They have been named as Savvas Sidereniou and Evangelos Evangelou.

But in a judgment delivered on August 19, the Resident Judge’s Court in the SBAs of Akrotiri and Dhekelia denied the application for the arrested persons’ transfer to Cypriot authorities’ custody.

The court noted that the Republic of Cyprus has “limited extra territorial jurisdiction.”

Explaining its ruling, the SBA court stated:

“The evidence that relates to the conspiracy charge in issue implies that the APs (Arrested Persons) may have joined the alleged conspiracy at the latest after the container reached its final destination in the SBAs. It does not necessarily lead to a reasonable inference that the APs were part of the alleged conspiracy being investigated from the outset.

“In relation to possible importation and/or possession charges there is no evidence/ or information whatsoever to suggest that the APs themselves had control over the narcotics prior to their being seized by the Grecian authorities.”

Essentially the SBA court found there was a lack of evidence that the crime took place outside SBA jurisdiction.

But the court also opined that justice would be better served if the two suspects faced trial in the SBAs.

It cited the “chronic overcrowding” problem faced in Cyprus’ central prisons and the potential delay in establishing a court date for the two suspects.

“The impact of greater delay likely, particularly in the context of the conditions of detention in the RoC [Republic of Cyprus] is paramount. Memory fades with time; full and accurate recall being a prerequisite of accurate testimony; so delay directly impacts on a trial’s fairness. Thus ‘justice delayed is justice denied’.”

Further, the court said it factored in the suspension (at the time of its judgment) of the head of the Cypriot Drug Squad Ykan, Michalis Katsounotos, who was being investigated on corruption allegations.

Katsounotos is being investigated regarding his alleged conspiracy with convicted felons – inmates at the central prisons.

The court went on with some stinging commentary about the justice system in Cyprus:

“In the RoC all the judges are from the relatively small Greek Cypriot population itself. Further compounded by the close relationships and affiliations between the RoC judiciary and the legal profession as well as the Cypriot population generally arising from family, social, educational and occupational connection; but particularly in respect of those individuals with substantial commercial and financial interests.

“In the SBAs any trials and appeals in a such a case there is little risk of any possibility of, or the appearance of, fear or favour from any associations of the judges whatsoever; whether political, personal, parliamentary, or other horse-trading, high profile media campaigns.”

In denying the application to hand over the two suspects, the court concluded:

“To order removal of the APs to the RoC may be unjust and oppressive; but it is clearly not in the interests of justice to do so.”

See the court ruling here: https://www.sbaadministration.org/images/court/css/extradition/20220819-DKL_Removal_3_4_22_Judgment.pdf

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