It was evident from the onset that the legal service was going to go out of its way to defend the actions of drug-squad chief Michalis Katsounotos, lawyers for prison director Anna Aristotelous said on Thursday after he was cleared of any wrongdoing by the attorney-general.
In a statement, George Triantafyllides and Pambos Ioannides, representing Aristotelous, said the report from the attorney general (AG) was completely unacceptable and went against the spirit of the law.
“The actions of the legal service, police chief and justice minister since June 2022 when our clients submitted a complaint, showed in the most clear way the intention to find Katsounotos ‘innocent’. This was proven by the AG’s statement.”
At the same time, opposition Akel blasted the legal service, calling it a tool operating to cover up the government’s dirty laundry.
“The public understands that behind the government-prison-police triangle, there is a dark backstory and dirty laundry for a lot of people. This is why the government wants to cover everything up,” Akel said.
The outcry came a day after AG George Savvides published a report outlining there was no evidence of corruption against Katsounotos, over his alleged efforts to secure a damaging video of Aristotelous and her deputy Athena Demetriou.
It added there was no public interest in prosecuting him as his efforts were directed in trying to bring light to offences carried out in the prisons. The report said there may be grounds for a disciplinary investigation on the basis of abuse of power and the offence of conspiracy. Both offences carry a two-year prison term and/or a fine up to €2,562.
Aristotelous’ lawyers said that after 95 days of studying the findings of independent investigator Achilleas Emilianides “is trying to justify Mr Katsounotos’ actions because for reasons only he knows and many suspect, really does not want to fire him.”
The fact the AG’s statement indicates police were aware of Katsounotos’ efforts to secure a video of Aristotelous, is even more concerning making it criminally jointly responsible, they said.
According to Justice Minister Stephie Dracou, it is in the hands of the police to decide whether a disciplinary investigation is necessary, though it is expected the police chief will assign an investigator who may take up to a month to investigate the case. The investigator may ask for more time if there is a lot of witness material.
If the police chief finds there are grounds to pursue a disciplinary offence, he will ask for a three-member committee to examine the case comprising of a senior member of the legal service, the public service and from the police. “I will approve of this committee,” Dracou said. The police association described the AG’s report as absolutely substantiated and correct.
The AG’s report prompted Aristotelous and her deputy to announce they were leaving their post and require a transfer to a different government job. They said Katsounotos’ actions to collaborate with a convict in prison in an attempt to secure video footage of them constituted as a flagrant violation of fundamental human rights.
Following their announcement, Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides posted on Twitter that his office was looking for staff and would be happy to have capable people such as them on his team.
Speaking to reporters, Dracou said she had yet to receive a formal transfer request. “It is not a matter for me if Ms Aristotelous is transferred, it goes to the public service. But I have asked my staff to examine this and inform me about what procedures must be followed.”
“There will certainly be transparency in my decisions and actions.”
This is the second time Aristotelous and Demetriou have asked to be transferred from their positions since the scandal broke in June.
Asked to comment on Aristotelous’ work during her tenure in the prisons, Dracou said “she has successfully implemented the rehabilitation policies of President Nicos Anastasiades and my own. From that point onwards, there are some court decisions which highlight murders were planned from inside the prisons and there were mobile phones there too.”
She was referring to a previous investigation ordered by the AG’s office that found that management of the Nicosia central prisons was “neither adequate nor effective”, the facility was rife with drugs and criminal activity including witness intimidation both inside and outside the prison, leading to an “uncontrolled and extremely dangerous situation”.
The report came just after the murder of a Turkish Cypriot inmate, Tansu Cidan, 41, who wad found dead in his cell on October 27.
In addition to the main inmate suspects in the case, two prison guards will face manslaughter charges, and a third guard faces the charge of negligent and dangerous actions and violating his duty.