The auditor-general and the attorney-general continued to tangle on Thursday over the status of the latter, and what Europe’s premier anti-corruption body has to say on the issue, on the back of a discussion in parliament of proposed legislation that would render the attorney-general’s office a completely autonomous agency.
During a debate at the House legal affairs committee a day earlier, where MPs debated a government bill making the Law Office of the Republic – the attorney-general – fully independent, Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides brought back the issue of breaking up the jurisdictions of the attorney-general’s office.
Michaelides cited a 2016 report by Greco, the EU’s anti-corruption body, which as he said opined it is problematic that the attorney-general’s office combines both the role of public prosecutor and legal advisor to the government.
According to the auditor, Greco said this state of affairs created an environment of “undue influence” within the attorney-general’s office, and it called for a system of checks and balances.
Responding, the attorney-general called it a “myth” that Greco had said such a thing.
Michaelides brought up another issue – Greco’s observation dating from 2017, pointing out that the attorney-general’s office in Cyprus was not being transparent when deciding to drop a criminal prosecution.
The 2017 report stated: “Insofar as the discontinuance of a criminal case is concerned, the authorities state that the reasons for such a decision are recorded in the criminal file of the relevant case. Additionally, as per the instructions of the Attorney General of Cyprus, prosecutors should state the reasons of the nolle prosequi before the relevant court in which they appear, thus making the said reasons known to the public, the defendant and all interested parties.”
Again, the attorney-general disputed Michaelides’ reading of the situation, insisting that his office has not fallen foul of Greco’s recommendation.
“Criminal investigations and transparency don’t go together,” said Attorney-general Giorgos Savvides.
“Not because I like to keep things secret from people, but because in no country in the world can you reveal publicly the evidence gathered from ongoing criminal investigations.”
Savvides said these were two separate matters – one is the autonomy of the attorney-general’s office, the other is the question of separating the prosecutorial and advisory roles of the office.
The first issue was the most pressing, he added.
The bill rendering the attorney-general a fully autonomous agency had been green-lit earlier this year by the outgoing government of Nicos Anastasiades during its last cabinet session.
It would establish separate bodies that would decide on appointments, promotions, transfers and secondments of staff working at the attorney-general’s office. Effectively, it would take jurisdiction over hiring at the attorney-general’s office away from the Public Service Commission.