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Family to get report into 2005 death of soldier (Update 2)

thanasis' parents and other demonstrate outside the supreme court in 2018
Thanasis' parents and other demonstrate outside the supreme court in 2018

Attorney-general George Savvides said on Monday his office will be turning over part of the report into the 2005 death of a soldier to the family after they had repeatedly requested the file.

He also declared a new police investigation into the death based on the report’s findings.

In most cases criminal reports are not handed over to the interested parties during ongoing investigations.

Savvides said that it has been decided to give the family part of the report prepared by the independent investigators that conducted the third inquiry into Thanasis Nicolaou’s 2005 death, which had been ruled a suicide at the time.

According to Savvides, part of the report will be given to Nicolaou’s family with the names omitted, as it forms the basis of a criminal investigation for the police.

“Having studied the report, based on the findings of the criminal investigators, which refer to criminal action against Thanasis Nicolaou, we judge that it should be sent to the police for further investigations to be carried out,” he said.

Savvides added that the family’s right to receiving information is ‘indisputable’.

“Accordingly, the obligation of the state to provide sufficient information to the relatives on the investigation into the death, especially when there are suspicions of criminal activity, is unquestionable,” he said.

However, the attorney-general said that ‘under normal circumstances’ reports by criminal investigators are not made public, even to the interested parties.

“If you look back at past instances, you will see that this has always been the position of the attorney-general’s office,” he said

Echoing the attorney-general, deputy attorney-general Savvas Angelides told the Cyprus Times it is not common practice to give such reports as the case is ongoing.

“The findings are generally not given, to protect the further proceedings, which is why this tactic is followed. It’s like a police file involving a criminal investigation, it has testimony, depositions, evidence, which may be lost if made public,” he said.

The family was not present at the press conference on Monday, even though Savvides had invited them with their lawyer Loukis Loucaides to collect it in person.

In a letter sent on September 23, the family said expressly that they would not be present because the report was not submitted to them ahead of Savvides’ statements.

Speaking through their lawyer, the family said that they had previously requested the report to no avail, and that the attorney-general’s letter stated the meeting would be to merely inform them of the report’s findings.

The criminal investigation report was submitted to the attorney-general last month and is the third inquiry submitted to the AG’s office into the circumstances surrounding Nicolaou’s death, which then state pathologist Panicos Stavrianos had ruled a suicide.

In a previous letter to Savvides on the matter, Loucaides said: “In all cases the relatives of the victim must be involved in the process (of investigating the crime) to the extent necessary to protect their legitimate interests. Relatives must be informed regularly, without delay, of the initiation and progress of investigations.”

Moreover, the lawyer hinted that the attorney-general had not adequately responded to the family’s pleas for justice.

“Legal obligations need to be respected in line with an earlier judgement by the European Court of Human Rights (Echr) which stated that Cypriot police had bungled the initial investigation into the young soldier’s death,” the letter said.

“On behalf of the family of the deceased, I ask you for the last time to send me the report and to take a decision on the case, otherwise we will be obliged to take other legal measures to ensure that justice is served,” the letter concluded.

In the original investigation, Nicolaou’s death was ruled a suicide, a claim his family strongly denied.  They said he had been bullied in the army and was killed. In January 2020, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Cyprus had failed to conduct sufficient investigations into the death of a 26-year-old soldier.

The attorney-general stated that the family will be given all 33 appendices that accompany the report, while 15 of the 16 statements and the summary of which are included will not be given, until the names are omitted to preserve further investigations.

“Due to the time that has passed, I will ask the Chief of Police to make the issue a priority,” Savvides said.

Commenting about the next steps in the case, Savvides said the report would be handed over to the police, who will be continuing the investigations into Nicolaou’s death.

“Police will need to carry out investigations that were not conducted by the investigator assigned then to the case,” he said.

The AG also said that he would be removing Savvas Matsas, one of the investigators from the case, as Matsas had given out details of the report, which the attorney-general said he shouldn’t have.

Antonis Alexopoulos will remain on the case.

Commenting on his suspension from the case, Matsas said: “It is a completely wrong decision that harkens back to other times.”

He added that the witness material consists of six voluminous files, of approximately 4,000 to 4,500 pages, while the report he prepared together with Alexopoulos, was 92 pages, pointing out that he made general statements to journalists’ questions.

“From all this witness material, without giving names, I have made general statements, simply to inform the world about the essence of the investigation, nothing more,” he said.

 

 

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