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Pre-trial phase of passports case drags on

Former House president Demetris Syllouris

Monday’s hearing in the ‘golden passports’ trial took another twist, with one of the defence attorneys effectively calling for a mistrial ruling, while the judge hinted that the court may not be appropriate to adjudge the case.

The court continued to hear pre-trial objections by the defence attorneys. The case opened up last October, with the pre-trial phase still ongoing.

The defendants are former House president Demetris Syllouris, former Akel MP and developer Christakis Giovani, senior lawyer for the Giovani Group Antonis Antoniou, and lawyer Andreas Pittadjis.

The trial proceedings are based on the findings of the Nicolatos investigation into the citizenship-by-investment scheme, prompted by the airing of a report by the Al Jazeera network.

The defendants face five charges, including conspiracy to defraud the Republic and influencing a public official in violation of the laws criminalising corruption.

Even though the proceedings got underway months ago, to date just one defendant – Pittadjis – has entered a plea, having pleaded not guilty. The rest of the defendants have yet to do so, as their lawyers insist the pre-trial objections be heard first.

Deputy attorney-general Savvas Angelides made an appearance in court on the state prosecution’s bench, urging the court to expedite the plea-entering.

Attorney George Papaioannou, representing defendants Giovani and Antoniou, urged the court to stay the proceedings. He argued that some of the charges filed against his clients were based on a non-existent law at the time, and therefore violated his clients’ rights.

He was referring to charges 1 through 3, and charge 5.

Charges 1 through 3 relate to two passports issued to foreign nationals and approved by cabinet in 2019. Charge 5 is thought to relate to the allegations surrounding a meeting – caught on tape – between a pretend proxy of a Chinese national with a criminal background and Syllouris to discuss issuing a Cypriot passport.

The charge sheet says charge 5 has to do with the granting of a passport (the third passport) to a foreign national – but it does not name the individual.

The defendants’ attorneys argue that this is highly irregular.

For his part, lawyer Chris Triantafyllides – representing defendant Syllouris – reiterated that his client is being charged for actions which ultimately were rubberstamped by the government itself.

The cabinet had the final say in approving passport applications, based on a recommendation by the interior ministry.

Triantafyllides again raised an issue of conflict of interest for attorney-general George Savvides and deputy attornety-general Savvas Angelides, whose office is prosecuting the case. Both Savvides and Angelides were members of the cabinet at the material time.

Having heard the attorneys’ objections, the judge noted that the issues raised by Papaioannou “evidently are very serious.”

The judge asked rhetorically whether this court was the competent court to examine such issues.

The hearings resume on February 13, when the prosecution is set to respond to the defendants’ pre-trial objections.

 

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