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Audit office demands thousands in overpayments to president when spokesman

The overpayments date back to President Nikos Christodoulides time as government spokesman
The overpayments date back to President Nikos Christodoulides time as government spokesman

President Nikos Christodoulides should return to the state over €18,000 he should not have received in paid leave, and come clean as to how much of the almost €40,000 he used in car mileage was for personal use, ensuring it goes back to state coffers, a report by the audit service said on Thursday.

Pulling no punches, the publication said it completely rejected statements by the presidency that the audit service was overstepping its remit, and said if there were any issues then the presidency could take the matter to the Supreme Court.

Reacting to the report, Christodoulides said he would refer the matter to the attorney general for his opinion.

“This is not the first time, we’ve seen a lot [of this] over the last few days,” he said when asked if the matter had become personal.

“In any case, I have a duty as president of the Republic to ensure the credibility of institutions, despite my personal sorrow and sadness.”

For his part, auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides accused the government of trying to undermine the service, accusing it of trying to transfer audit staff on the former co-op case, elsewhere.

“We express our disappointment.”

The heightened tone came after an escalating spat between the audit service and government, following damning statements about Christodoulides, including the use of service vehicles to transport Christodoulides’ children.

Thursday’s report details that Christodoulides’ appointment as government spokesman in 2014 was never published in the government gazette, nor did the council of ministers publish its decision over the matter.

Though Christodoulides was asked to provide any formal documentation over his spokesperson role for the purposes of the report, the presidency failed to provide anything, the audit service detailed.

Nonetheless, his €157,209 in earnings he amassed during his tenure cannot be deemed ‘irregular’ or problematic. Though it should have been the finance ministry that made the decision over Christodoulides’ spokesperson role rather than the council of ministers, this did not change the desired outcome, though the audit service urged that the details of the law should be adhered to.

The report did take issue with €18,176 (minus tax deductions) with 75 days of leave Christodoulides was paid for when he retired from the public service in 2018, to take on the role as foreign minister.

Christodoulides claimed 75 days of leave, however the audit service said the records showed he never actually filled out the necessary forms, nor did he get his leave signed off by his supervisor.

As such, it appears Christodoulides only verbally informed his personal secretary and the cabinet’s secretary of his leave as spokesman.

According to the report, Christodoulides only filled out the necessary paperwork after he retired.

The 75 days translated to €18,176 for which he was paid.

“Since the procedures required by law were not followed, we consider the expenditure incurred as not regular, and therefore the amount of €18,176 (minus deductions, i.e. income tax and deduction of €3,181) should be returned to the state,” the report said.

Additionally, the service vehicle given to Christodoulides for exclusive use when he was government spokesman should not have been granted to him as he had not been formally appointed to the role, the audit service highlighted.

In a span of three-and-a-half years, the car travelled 172,861 km, translating to an average of 138km per day. This includes public holidays, weekends and days in which Christodoulides was travelling abroad or on leave.

As such, the figures highlight the need of calculating how much of the mileage was in fact personal use.

The report said the presidency had refused to disclose any data over the matter and such, the audit’s calculations amount to €38,928 that the state should take back, after Christodoulides’ service use is deducted from the sum.

Where the €41,024 overseas allowance that Christodoulides received is concerned, the audit service calculated that around half was in fact overpaid.

The figure concerns an allowance granted to government officials travelling abroad for work, receiving a percentage of the set allowance. Public servants should receive 40 per cent or 45 per cent if the travel was with the president.

Christodoulides however, received 90 per cent of the allowance, citing his spokesman role, rather than his public servant position.

The difference between what he was paid and what he should have received amounts to €20,804. Considering the time elapsed and that Christodoulides may have interpreted the cabinet’s decision about his spokesman role in good faith (though it did not follow due process), the audit service it leaves the matter up to the president to decide.

The report also included a summation of the presidency’s responses, which said the publication should have the opinion of the attorney-general and argued it violated personal data.

The audit service responded saying this was part of an attempt to undermine its powers and the report was one of public interest.

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