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Officials consistently greenlit ‘illegal’ Limassol fish farm

kourisdam
Fish farm is accused of carrying out a “large-scale intervention” within the environmental protection zone at the Kouris dam

A fish farm has been operating illegally for years in a Limassol village, destroying the environment around the Kouris dam for which several ministries are suspected of abuse of power, a damning report by the audit service revealed on Wednesday.

The farm is also suspected of money laundering, adding to the long list of wrongdoings detailed in the report.

It describes the development as blatantly illegal, and highlights it has carried out a “large-scale intervention” within the environmental protection zone at the Kouris dam.

As such, the dam no longer has adequate water supply in case of a fire, thus putting public safety at risk.

The audit service suggested the issues were likely due to the business activities of the fish farm.

A permit allowing the business to extract water from the Kouris water dam to supply the fish farm, was rubberstamped by the agriculture minister in 2017. He did not substantiate his decision.

According to the report, the business in question concerns a large-scale development with two fish farms in neighbouring Limassol villages. One is in Trimiklini and the other in Sylikou.

They are owned by the same interests.

The owner, along with a first-degree relative, has also used state land in Trimiklini’s section of the development to breed fish in special tanks.

They offer wooden houses for accommodation and sauna rooms, along with an artificial lake and a restaurant. All of the facilities are illegal, the report highlights.

“None of the projects of this development secured any permits from the competent authorities, resulting in a large-scale infringement within the protection zone of the Kouris river, significantly reducing its drainage capacity,” the report details.

The deputy tourism ministry has done nothing to put an end to the illegality, it adds.

According to the audit service, there are suspicions of misuse of funds, as the owner received €420,000 in EU funds from Cyprus’ agriculture payments in 2012 to construct a water reservoir, aimed at supplying the Sylikou community.

The reservoir however was ultimately used as a fish farm, and as such, the matter has been reported to the European Anti-Fraud office.

Furthermore, the report details suspicious activity raising questions of money laundering, which have been forwarded to Cyprus’ unit for combating money laundering (Mokas).

The audit service highlights activities by a slew of government officials in the agriculture ministry, interior ministry and deputy tourism ministry who may have committed an offence and should be investigated.

The findings have been forwarded to Cyprus’ anti-corruption authority to assess abuse of power and corruption.

The investigation began after the many complaints the audit service said it received, as well as a request to look into the matter from the House environment committee.

A history of questionable decisions

According to the report, in 2009, the Limassol district office issued the businessman a water reservoir permit. Nonetheless, it was constructed in a way that violated the conditions which were set out. It was built in the wrong location, shape and size.

In 2011, the fisheries department issued a fish farming permit for the project, which according to the audit service was erroneous, as the project lacked both a building and planning permit.

A year later, the businessman received EU funds, which appear to be misappropriated.

In 2013, the fisheries department amended the licence to Establish and Operate without an environmental impact report. It allowed the farm to increase production from five tonnes to 20. In 2022, the permit was renewed for another 10 years.

In 2017, the town planning department rejected a request to change the licence to one of a water reservoir and a fish farm, citing the lack of an environmental impact assessment and the fact that the water tank was closer to the dam than was permitted.

Despite all of this, and without any evidence to support a change of heart, in 2020, the town planning department granted the requested permit, exercising ‘special discretion’ and without substantiating its decision. This was contrary to the law, particularly with the fact that there was no environmental impact assessment.

“The fisheries department knew from at least April 2019 that the person holding the licence was operating illegally…and failed to take any measures against him. It also illegally amended and renewed the licence.”

In 2017, the agriculture minister approved, in the context of a review of a hierarchical appeal, the granting of a water extraction licence for the purposes of water supply to the illegal fish farm premises in the Trimiklini community, without, however, substantiating the reasons for its decision.

The report also urged the veterinary services to re-evaluate the permit for the fish farm, in light of the findings which detail the fisheries department wrongly issued the permit.

More so, despite the findings that the reservoir and fish farm were constructed illegally, the town planning department did not issue a Formal Notice.

This was because the town planning department deemed the process time-consuming and bureaucratic, so only reserves it for serious cases of illegalities, the report details.

The department did not deem this as a serious case.

The report further alleged that during an inspection earlier this year by members of the environment department, the owner was described as aggressive, where he swore at the employees, and trapped them in the development.

 

 

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