Crime and pun­ish­ment in Cyprus

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

A good business en­vi­ron­ment re­quires a strong le­gal and ju­di­cial sys­tem. The grow­ing num­ber of scan­dals raise con­cerns about the ef­fec­tive­ness of jus­tice in Cyprus. Is it pos­si­ble that in this small, in­ward look­ing and in­ter­re­lated so­ci­ety that no one knew what was go­ing on within the Paphos Mu­nic­i­pal­ity? Or that such knowl­edge was limited to a small group who dis­trib­uted bags of money among them­selves? No one re­ally be­lieves that. A more likely ex­pla­na­tion is that we have be­come so ac­cus­tomed to such be­hav­iour as part of the ex­pected pat­tern of life on the is­land that it oc­ca­sions nei­ther sur­prise nor out­rage.

News of sim­i­lar in­ves­ti­ga­tions ap­pear almost daily. TEPAK univer­sity and its ex­or­bi­tant pay­ments for build­ings rented and not used, new build­ings paid for but not built. Nicosia tax au­thor­i­ties ap­par­ently re­duc­ing taxes to who­ever they felt de­served it. Here and in the Dro­mo­laxia scan­dal con­cern­ing land pur­chases by the CYTA pen­sion fund, it is not small op­er­a­tors short of cash that are in­volved but highly placed pub­lic ser­vants who al­ready had high pay­ing jobs . Surely, it is not enough that penal­ties are awarded to those found guilty. The re­fund of any money ob­tained il­le­gally should also be re­quired.

Ma­jor trans­gres­sions which are ad­dressed quickly in other coun­tries seem to linger on within the Cypriot ju­di­cial process for years. The He­lios air­craft dis­as­ter in Greece oc­curred in Au­gust , 2005. The case was brought to court four years later, after in­nu­mer­able ex­pense paid trips be­tween Athens and Cyprus of those in­ves­ti­gat­ing the in­ci­dent. The trial lasted three more years be­fore the Cypriot court ac­quit­ted the four de­fen­dants of all charges (the Greek courts took 5 months to con­vict and sen­tence four He­lios de­fen­dants to ten years in jail).

Cypriot jus­tice is swift if some­one robs a newsstand or gro­cery store. In such cases the po­lice and the courts are mod­els of ju­di­cial rigour and ef­fi­ciency. Not so when it comes to events such as the re­cent fi­nan­cial cri­sis which has put the en­tire coun­try in bank­ruptcy and where the is­sues in­volve po­lit­i­cal fig­ures or those in the up­per strata of Cypriot so­ci­ety. Jus­tice here has not only been tur­tle slow but re­sults have been vir­tu­ally nil.

The search for those re­spon­si­ble for the fi­nan­cial cri­sis got off to what seemed like a promis­ing start. The gov­ern­ment was quick to ap­point a com­mis­sion headed by three judges to hold an in­de­pen­dent, open and fully trans­par­ent in­ves­ti­ga­tion. After months of probes and pub­lic tes­ti­mony tele­vised for all to see, the com­mis­sion pub­lished its re­port. The sum­mary of the Com­mis­sion of in­quiry’s re­port placed the ma­jor guilt for the cri­sis on the pre­vi­ous Pres­i­dent of the Repub­lic and the po­lit­i­cal par­ties which sup­ported his gov­ern­ment. The re­port was promptly brushed aside to be re­placed by a far from trans­par­ent, in­ter­nal gov­ern­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tion whose re­sults are still to see the light of day.

This elicited lit­tle com­ment, pos­si­bly be­cause cit­i­zens have seen it all be­fore. The find­ings of the gov­ern­ment’s own com­mis­sion in­ves­ti­gat­ing the Mari dis­as­ter were sim­i­larly dis­missed. Here again, an open and trans­par­ent in­ves­ti­ga­tion which iden­ti­fied po­lit­i­cal fig­ures was re­jected and re­placed by an in­ter­nal gov­ern­ment in­quiry.

To­day, the cur­rent search for the guilty par­ties be­hind the fi­nan­cial cri­sis con­tin­ues. The fo­cus is now on bankers. No doubt it is en­tirely a co­in­ci­dence that this de­flects blame away from the politi­cians and po­lit­i­cal par­ties which the gov­ern­ment’s own com­mis­sion of in­quiry found to be the main cul­prits.

The pres­i­dent was right when he de­scribed his job of deal­ing with such scan­dals as one of clean­ing the Augean sta­bles. The Cypriot ju­di­cial sys­tem should be the Her­cules lead­ing the cleanup – but it seems to be more a part of the prob­lem than a part of the so­lu­tion.

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