Crime and punishment in Cyprus
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.