Nikos Christodoulides and Andreas Mavroyiannis exceeded the €1 million legal limit in their presidential election spending, while Disy and Elam failed to be thoroughly transparent over their funding during the campaign, an auditor general’s report revealed on Tuesday.

According to the findings, the top spenders during the elections were Akel-backed Mavroyiannis (€1.2m), now President Christodoulides (€1.02m) and Disy candidate Averof Neophytou (€970,000).

And it added that all three were not as transparent with their spending as they should be. In total, there were 14 candidates running for the country’s top post.

The audit service said Mavroyiannis exceeded the legal limit by €86,758 and Christodoulides by €19,357.

It outlined that although Neophytou returned the €98,638 which was left over from his election finances to his party, there was no transparency over the origins of most of that money, thus making the funds illegal.

But Neophytou hit back, taking issue with the fact that the audit report only looked at the three political parties that participated in the presidential election with their own candidate.

“Based on the audit service’s report, Akel, Diko, Edek and Depa neither had, nor did they support candidates. They had no participation whatsoever and did not spend a single cent on the pre-election campaign.”

Neophytou was making a highly sarcastic dig, particularly over Christodoulides who chose to run as an independent rather than a Disy candidate, and had the backing of all the centre parties.

According to the report, the legal framework regulating spending during presidential election campaigns has significant gaps and weaknesses.

Perhaps the biggest issue of all is that by law, the pre-election campaign ‘begins’ six months before the elections.

As such, any funding that candidates receive before the six-month mark does not count and is therefore not included within the €1m limit.

Additionally, the law does not regulate any cash surplus which may emerge during the campaign. There is also no legislation to control social media expenditures, the report added.

“The findings and conclusions, as well as the fact that the unclear legal framework governing the conduct of elections is not in line with modern requirements for the conduct of elections, create problems in its implementation, by parties, candidates and in the audit by the audit service.”

It urged the election commissioner to submit a bill aimed at revising the existing law.

The report, which looked at Disy, Elam and United Cyprus Republican Party funding, found the first two were not as transparent as they should have been.

Elam only presented €76,000 which it paid out for its candidate but did not publish the analytical expenditure report or offer evidence.

Disy failed to submit an itemised statement to the chief returning officer, according to the audit service.

The report detailed Neophytou received €530,000 from Disy as party funding but also paid almost €40,000 “in violation of the relevant legislation.”

Disy said the €40,000 was for road signs and the payment was made in January 2023 – outside of the six-month election period.

A review of the party’s bank statements identified an extra €30,000 in spending which was not submitted in Neophytou’s election expenses report, the audit service said.

Lack of transparency over election spending is a recurring theme, with the audit service finding similar issues during the 2021 parliamentary elections where parties had all sorts of omissions.