Senior Cyprus prosecutor allegedly offered private advice to Russians
One of the most senior prosecutors in Cyprus has allegedly offered private advice and information to Russian officials, raising further questions about attempts by the Kremlin to exert influence over governments of EU countries.
Private emails published over the weekend showed a senior lawyer within the Cyprus law office privately offered assistance to Russian officials in sensitive extradition cases, even when individuals had applied for asylum.
The private emails of Eleni Loizidou, who in effect served as deputy attorney general and was once nominated for a seat on the European court of human rights, were published by the Greek Cypriot newspaper Politis.
Among the revelations were allegations that Loizidou offered advice and, in some cases, to intervene in proceedings on Russians’ behalf.
Reached by the Guardian, Loizidou staunchly denied wrongdoing and said she was just as “friendly” with Russian counterparts as she was with American and British colleagues.
She claimed it was her duty to inform foreign counterparts of information in extradition cases and only selective emails showing her dealings with Russia had been published.
“It is cooperation and I think I am good at my job,” she said. “I have never received any presents from Russia except the occasional vodka and small chocolates. I have never lived with expensive taste. My salary is only €4,000 a month.”
In a 2013 email exchange between Loizidou and Vladimir Zimin, the deputy head of the department of international legal cooperation in the Russian prosecutor general’s office, Loizidou thanked him for “excellent hospitality” during a stay in Moscow and joked that she might require a job offer if advice she privately offered the Russians about asylum cases became public.
In another case, Loizidou allegedly offered to intervene in a case so Russian authorities could win a court delay and more time to prepare documents. A different email allegedly showed her offering insights into how a case had been legally mishandled in a way that could help the Russian side.
Cyprus and its links to the Kremlin, particularly in the banking sector, where it has been seen as a hub for money laundering, have long been a source of concern within the EU.
On Monday, Costas Clerides, the Cyprus attorney general, announced that he had ordered a disciplinary investigation into the Russia allegations and would transfer Lozidou from the law office’s extraditions department to a separate department. He also called for a police investigation into the apparent theft of her emails, which could be considered a criminal offfence.
Loizidou told the Guardian she believed she had been the target of an apparent hack of her private emails, saying she had ignored several alerts that her account had been compromised, because of pending cases of wealthy Russians being extradited back to Russia. Loizidou also pointed to recent remarks in which she was critical of Interpol’s decision to deem certain arrest warrants “politically motivated”.
She has said such decisions ought to be determined by courts.
Her stance appeared to be a thinly veiled criticism of Interpol ignoring a request from Russia for the arrest of Bill Browder, the co-founder of Hermitage Capital. He has been accused of fraud in Russia and is a vociferous critic of Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin’s pursuit of Browder is seen in the US and Europe as being politically motivated.
Russia and Cyprus have been engaged in a diplomatic tussle over an investigation into Browder. The government in Cyprus had been cooperating with Russian prosecutors in their attempts to investigate his financial dealings. But a judge in Cyprus recently intervened and advised the government to delay cooperation until the court ruled on a claim by Browder’s defence team that the action was a politically motivated attack by the Kremlin.
Cyprus and Russia have been engaged in a row over Bill Browder, who Moscow wants arrested. Photograph: Richard Saker for the Observer