Former state officials in hot water with the audit office over allegedly pocketing secretarial allowances do not have to give back the thousands of euros that the law allows them, the finance ministry said on Friday.

The five former officials were named in the letter Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides sent on March 15 as former presidents George Vassiliou and Nicos Anastasiades, and former House speakers Yiannakis Omirou, Marios Garoyian, and Demetris Syllouris.

The service had conducted a probe into the allowances, looking into social insurance statements of the personal secretaries and finding in some cases they were employed for less and alleging that individuals had pocketed the difference.

On Friday, the finance ministry hit back saying the allowance was set in law and there was no reason for anyone to return any money. “Under the legislation in question, the above-mentioned former officials are granted an allowance for the employment of a private secretary, the amount of which is specified in the legislation,” it said.

It added that official entitle to the allowance are given a choice. Either have a civil servant do the job or hire someone themselves. All five had chosen the latter, the ministry said.

It added that the issue had been raised in the past at the cabinet but it was decided to keep it in place. The proposal was to have the stipend reflect the actual amount the secretaries were paid and not have a fixed amount of €3,000 per month as it stands. The decision in 2018 was to keep it in place.

Michaelides later slammed the finance minister’s stance as “unacceptable” saying he would refer the case to the anti-corruption authority if overpayments continue.

According to the figures, the allowance for former state officials comes to €39,089 per year.

The audit service letter, which was originally sent to the ministry and ended up in parliament for discussion, showed some of the state officials were not using the funds appropriately and, in some cases, were pocketing the difference.

Starting with former President Vassiliou, Michaelides said that in 2023 he received €39,089 to employ a private secretary. From 2004 to December 2023, Vassiliou received a total of €709,352 from the state to employ a secretary.

He said that according to social insurance, the person Vassiliou declared was not employed by him but by a company he and his family owned through another company.

The earnings of the person declared by Vassiliou amounted in 2023 to €54,858, or €4,570 per month.

Although this exceeded the amount fixed by law, Michaelides said he considered it “manifestly unlawful” for the state to pay Vassiliou for a person working for a private company. Michaelides said that even if the company was founded to provide secretarial services to Vassiliou, it should be invoicing the former president, which was not the case.

He recommended the finance ministry terminate the payment to Vassiliou until such time as the former president employs an actual private secretary.

For Anastasiades, Michaelides found that in 2023 he received €20,396. The amount was reduced as his presidential term expired in March. Michaelides found that Anastasiades does employ the person in question but quibbled over the fact that only around €8,000 was paid out. He said the rest, €11,314 should be paid back and the amount to Anastasiades reduced.

The report found that Yiannakis Omirou allegedly pocketed funds. In 2023, he received the €39,089 allowance but the person hired was employed both by himself and a law firm owned by his relatives and was paid only €12,276 for services to Omirou and €14,256 by the law firm. Even combined it was less than the state allowance.

From 2016, when he left the position of house speaker until December 2023, Omirou received the total amount of €279,338.

Garoyan was also found by Michaelides to be skimping out and pocketing the difference. From 2011, when he left as House speaker until December 2023, Garoyan received €364,397. It appears, the person Garoyan declared was self-employed but their earnings in 2023 came only to €21,520, not €39,089, which he received under the law.

“Therefore, the difference of €17,569 should be refunded to the state,” Michaelides said. “Likewise, the difference for all previous years, as well as for the months of January and February 2024, should be refunded and the relevant amount paid should be immediately adjusted,” his letter said.

Syllouris, who had been forced to resign over the golden passport scandal in 2021, was also implicated. In 2023 he received €24,436 in 2023. From 2021, when he left office, until December 2023, Syllouris received €64,865.

The person Syllouris named as his secretary is employed by him. Their declared earnings came to €19,708 for 2023.