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Setback for prosecution in golden passports case

The supreme court

The legal services prosecuting the high profile ‘golden passport’ case suffered a setback after the supreme court overturned key search warrants, invalidating the evidence obtained during those checks.

That warrant had uncovered mobile phone, computer and other electronic messages and information – without the use of which the prosecutors are likely to have a harder case to argue.

“We will continue investigating the case as if we no longer have this in our possession,” the legal services and the police told Politis.

The supreme court on Thursday reasoned that the search warrant had been issued without satisfying the necessary criteria, therefore leading to it being overturned.

The case before Nicosia criminal court is centered on the four key players allegedly involved in the ‘golden passport’ scandal – two of whom were leading protagonists in Al Jazeera’s explosive undercover report.

The defendants are former House president Demetris Syllouris, former Akel MP and developer Christakis Giovanis, and an officer at the Giovani Group Antonis Antoniou, and lawyer Andreas Pittadjis.

A search warrant issued in late 2020 by the Larnaca-Famagusta district court allowed police to check the private property of Giovanis and Antoniou – which included their cars, offices, and homes. Computers, phones, and USBs, among other items, were seized by the police as evidence.

The search warrant was initially overturned in 2021 but the prosecutors appealed, with the supreme court this week now closing the lid on that line of investigation for good.

The court reasoned that the judge who issued the warrant did not satisfy all three necessary criteria – which must all be reached for the warrant to be valid.

The first is that there is reasonable cause to believe that the suspect has committed or is likely to commit a crime. Secondly, that there is reasonable suspicion or likelihood that the that the private communication obtained is connected and relevant to the offence. The final condition is that the warrant being issued is in “the interest of justice”.

The supreme court further argued that the search warrant was issued without considering all these three criteria together, stating that therefore the district court did not act in accordance with the law.

It also reasoned that the district court issued the warrant for offences not covered by the law.

The court case is set for its first hearing on October 26 in Nicosia, where the four defendants will be called on to answer charges of conspiracy to defraud the Republic and influencing a public official in violation of the law against corruption.

During a previous session, Syllouris’ lawyer – Chris Triantafyllides – argued that the two heads of the legal services, who form the prosecution, are also involved in the case in their capacity as former ministers.

Triantafyllides has emphasised that Attorney-general Giorgos Savvides and his deputy Savvas Angelides served as justice minister and defence minister, respectively, as recently as 2020.

Triantafyllides argued that Savvides and Angelides were involved in charges one, two and three in their capacity as former ministers, noting that both served as ministers in the cabinet which approved passports – the same passports for which his client is on trial.

The Cyprus Mail contacted Triantafyllides, who explained that his argument is that charges 1 through 3 – pertaining to all defendants – relate to two passports issued to foreign nationals.

“These two passports were approved by the cabinet in 2019, when Savvides and Angelides were members of the cabinet. So how can that decision, considered legal then, be said to be illegal now? Also, there is clearly a question of a conflict of interest for Savvides and Angelides.”

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