A criminal investigation into 17.5kg of cocaine hidden in banana crates has turned into a legal wrangle between the British bases (SBAs) and the Republic of Cyprus, in what has been described “an abuse of court process” by a British judge.
Back and forth between both authorities mean that a year after two men were arrested, no one has been brought to justice for the drugs charge and the defence lawyer is expected to file a motion for the case to be dismissed.
“I will say that I am very surprised at how the SBAs and the Republic’s authorities have been so disrespectful of a court judgement. The SBA court decided in August 2022 that the case should be tried in the SBAs and neither police force has respected that judgement,” the lawyer for the defendants Dimitris Lochias told the Sunday Mail.
He explained he will be filing for the case to be dismissed citing an abuse of power and process by the authorities of the Republic.
The story began in July last year after Cypriot police were alerted that a container with a large amount of cocaine was headed to Limassol port from Greece. After it arrived, it was transported to Asomatos village, which falls under the jurisdiction of the British bases.
The container was under joint surveillance by Cypriot and bases’ police, with the latter ultimately arresting them.
Both suspects were charged by the bases and released on bail for criminal trespass and malicious damage over a fence that had been cut through. They were subsequently fined by the court, a bases’ spokesperson told the Sunday Mail.
The two were then to be ‘extradited’ to the Republic’s territories to be tried for drugs-related charges.
An objection raised by their lawyer Lochias argued that the suspects should instead be tried on bases’ territory on the grounds that it would be a more efficient process which would not take more than four months to end.
Lochias argued that in Cyprus’ courts it would take over a year for the case to even begin.
Associate judge TC Karamanis at the British bases’ court on August 19 last year, adopted the objection and, quite surprisingly, raised questions over the ability of Cypriot judges to actually hear the case.
“The RoC’s judges, even those dealing with the most serious and complex criminal cases, are neither necessarily experienced nor knowledgeable in criminal cases,” the decision said.
“If the arrested persons are tried in the SBAs it will be by a panel of three experienced and specialist judges from and based in England without any significant ties, links or connections with Greece, the RoC and even the SBAs. Thus, the SBA’s judges are generally in a better position to ‘see the wood for the trees’.”
It also highlighted “close relationships and affiliations” between the judiciary and legal profession, as well as those with “substantial commercial and financial interests”.
Going a step further, the judge said he took note of the allegations made by (the now former) prison director Anna Aristotelous against the drug squad’s chief Michalis Katsounotos.
As such, Karamanis ruled the British bases should be the court to hear the case.
But, according to Lochias, the Cypriot courts decided to go ahead with the trial in its own jurisdiction anyway, filing a case.
As a result, Cypriot authorities have requested evidence held by the British bases for the case to go ahead in the local courts.
British bases’ judge Sanders, who issued a decision over the matter last week, described the request as “an attempt to circumvent the clear and unchallenged conclusions” of the previous judgement – that the case be tried by the bases.
He highlighted “the authorities in the Republic have failed to support the SBA investigation in circumstances where it would have been reasonable for them so to do.”
Additionally, he noted the bases’ authorities “accepted this decision readily, notwithstanding the judgement of judge Karamanis which determined that such a course was not in the interests of justice”.
One suspect has already been arrested in the Republic while another is missing.
As a result, 15 pieces of evidence are left in limbo, however, the judge said they should be kept by the bases’ police until further orders from the court.
In the meantime, Lochias will file a motion to the Cyprus court requesting the case be dismissed as there is already a decision by the bases’ judge that the case be tried by British judges, rather than local courts.
The attorney general’s office was not immediately available for comment.