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Audit service and presidential palace clash over service vehicles and renovations

general view of the presidential palace in nicosia
Presidential Palace, Nicosia

By Jonathan Shkurko and Nikolaos Prakas

The audit service and the presidential palace were sparring again on Thursday, after the former released special report saying use of service vehicles to transport the president’s children by themselves was illegal, which then led to a further row over the renovations at the presidential palace.

In the morning, the audit service issued a special report on police activity in 2023, where they cited that it is illegal for separate service vehicles to be used to transport the children of the president.

“For our service, it is clear that whatever security reasons are put forward cannot result in individuals being transported at the expense of the state. We have indicated that, in our opinion, the transportation of the children of the President of the Republic in an official car is illegal and constitutes an abuse of power,” the service said in the report.

Commenting on the report to Ant1 television, the spokesman of the audit service, Marios Petrides, said that President Nikos Christodoulides can transport his children by himself, using either his own vehicle or his service vehicle.

He added that a security officer could accompany them, but the president or first lady would have to be present in the vehicle as well.

According to the audit service, the problem was that the service vehicles could not be used to drive the children alone with security officers.

Petrides suggested another solution could be for the president or first lady to use their own private vehicles to transport their children.

Weighing in on the matter of transporting the president’s children, the police issued a statement saying the president’s children can be transported in service vehicles based on a police order. The police emphasised that it is allowed to transport individuals at risk, for their protection.

The police added that the supreme court sets out the regulations and that “in no case, as stated in the relevant report of the auditor-general, is there abuse of power”.

“The position of the police is the non-disclosure of sensitive issues and especially issues related to the safety of persons and for this purpose, the Chief of Police himself called to a meeting an official of the audit service, to discuss and be informed about the specific security issues, however, this meeting never took place as there was no response,” the police said.

Meanwhile, a debate between the audit service and authorities over the use of service vehicles to transport the president’s children evolved into another dispute over renovations at the presidential palace.

Government Spokesman Konstantinos Letymbiotis, invited to comment on Ant1, raised the issue of presidential palace renovations, claiming that during the works, Auditor-General Odysseas Michaelides inspected the palace, including the “bathroom and bedroom of the president.”

Letymbiotis also called on the audit service to prove claims from the previous days that Christodoulides had received overtime pay when he served on secondment from the foreign ministry at the presidential palace.

In response, the audit service said the government spokesman “should first make himself aware of the facts, before expressing himself in such an insulting and disparaging manner.”

The audit service said that the truth of the matter was that on July 6, when two officers from the audit service went to the presidential palace to check the works, as had been agreed, they were met with “verbal abuse”, and told to turn over their phones, after attempting to take a picture to document the renovations near the president’s office.

During their visit, it had been agreed that they would visit the living area of the president.

“Then the two officials were escorted upstairs to the upper floor where the work was being done, as agreed. The First Lady forbade them to enter the areas where work had been done on the grounds that it was a private area. The colleagues left,” the announcement said.

After the fiasco, Michaelides communicated with Christodoulides on the same day, and they agreed the audit service needs to have access as it is a public work being conducted with public funds.

A new visit was organised for July 12, which was attended by Michaelides, the director of technical audit, and the two officials who visited on July 6.

The audit service said that when the president arrived, Michaelides insisted that only the officers go to the upper floor to inspect the works, but the president said everyone should go, as it happened.

The ongoing row started earlier in the week, when a report came out that Christodoulides had received overtime and stipends when serving at the presidential palace from 2013-1018 on secondment from the foreign affairs ministry.

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