Two individuals are seeking damages of up to €2 million from the state in a lawsuit where they claim their right to presumption of innocence was violated, it emerged on Monday.
The case is related to the affair over the fish farm operating in Trimiklini, Limassol, which got a lot of play in the media recently.
Filed on behalf of the plaintiffs by the law firm Christos Pourgourides & Co LLC, the lawsuit asserts that auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides – both in his special report and in oral remarks – violated the presumption of innocence.
The plaintiffs are Andreas Christofi and Costakis Christofi – owners of the fish farm in question. They both hail from the village of Trimiklini.
They’re seeking up to €2 million in punitive damages from the Republic. The defendants named on the lawsuit are the auditor-general, the attorney-general and the Republic of Cyprus.
The law firm’s press release read: “Both the auditor-general and the spokesperson of the Audit Office – in writing and orally – have repeatedly claimed that our clients are guilty of several illegalities.
“Whereas the [Cyprus] constitution and the European Convention of Human Rights explicitly state that everyone is presumed innocent, and that only courts may judge if someone is guilty of breaking the law.”
The statement added: “The auditor-general, without having authority or jurisdiction from either the constitution or any law, conducted investigations, circulated a lengthy report and made statements accusing our clients of serious offences, which has caused them serious damages and losses.”
Speaking to the Cyprus Mail, attorney Christos Pourgourides said the lawsuit ultimately aims to rein in the auditor-general for stepping beyond his boundaries.
“The auditor-general has jurisdiction to investigate public expenditures, period. He has no authority to investigate whether a building permit was issued illegally. That’s the job of the district officer or the relevant government department.”
Pourgourides added: “Marios Petrides, the Audit Office spokesman, went on TV and spoke of 100 plus illegalities committed by our clients. This is beyond the pale.”
Asked whether the lawsuit might backfire on his clients, in the sense that the case might re-focus attention on the substance of the fish farm affair, the lawyer had this to say: “Neither I nor my clients have anything to fear, we are fighting for justice.”
According to a special report released by the auditor-general last December, the fish farm in Trimiklini has been operating illegally for years, damaging the environment around the Kouris dam. The farm is also suspected of money laundering, adding to the long list of wrongdoings detailed in the report.
The report described the development as blatantly illegal, stating 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.