The corrupted spirit of laissez-faire authorities
When President Anastassiades came to power in 2013, he made numerous public statements to the effect that his administration would, for the first time in the Republic’s history, tackle corruption head-on, go after major whitecollar criminals and rein in the culture of indolence, inefficiency and entitlement that had infected the state sector for so long.
Some impressive headway has been made in pursuing some of the ‘big fish’ and their various collaborators engaged in fraud and/or bribery and corruption, thanks to the dogged investigation and pursuit of alleged wrongdoers by the Auditor General and the police. These cases all involve alleged significant criminal activity. But, what about the other things that Anastassiades and others have complained of in relation to the culture of inefficiency, laziness, self-serving behaviour and entitlement that has bedevilled the Cyprus civil and public sector for so long? That too is a form of corruption - a corruption of the spirit, which is just as damaging to the national economy and public interest.
Two recent instances serve to illustrate how pernicious low-grade malfeasance, one way or another, eats away at the fabric of society and brings added risks. or from his registration agent. Mr A assumed that either way, dead or alive, no one can use another person’s address without the owner’s authorisation. Who knows what unlawful activities, such as tax evasion, may have motivated this dodgy registration after so many years? Imagine his shock when his lawyers advised that it is not unlawful to use in such registrations someone else’s address without their permission! And, only the directors of the registered company can, if they wish, choose to alter the registered address.
However, beyond Mr A’s indignation at the cheek of those involved, and the laid-back attitude of the Registrar, this case has exposed a much graver risk to Cyprus in two areas: international money laundering and the parking of funds for terrorism. If, as is apparent, it is so easy in Cyprus for anyone (even a dead person) to get a company registered in their name and at someone else’s address without their approval or consent, then one can be pretty sure that criminals and terrorists are already exploiting this weakness. For example, the on-going criminal trial in India of the former Telecommunications Minister Mr A. Raja on multiple counts of bribery, corruption, fraud and money laundering involving about EUR 479 mln, has heard prosecution evidence alleging that the accused channelled millions in bribe money via a set of 32 dummy companies registered in Cyprus and then onward to accounts in the Maldives and Seychelles. The Cyprus authorities are aware of this case but appear to have turned a blind eye. the requested answers. So, he advised the Icarus boss that perhaps he had misunderstood that it was an initial enquiry that did not warrant a meeting, only simple answers to two very simple questions. After receiving no further response, Mr B sent a reminder. This time he received an incredibly vitriolic e-mail accusing him of refusing a meeting offered by a ‘qualified professional’ (sic). Icarus were refusing pointblank to divulge anything, even the basis of their charges, without a face-to-face meeting. Further, the e-mail contained threats of legal action if Mr B should report his appalling experience at their hands to anyone else!
Unsurprisingly, Mr B immediately dropped Icarus from his list of potential consultants. Market forces won the day and the reputation of Icarus now goes well and truly before them. However, there is a wider issue. Typically, a professional body’s code of conduct includes requirements such as ‘…members should do nothing that in any way could diminish the high standing of the profession. This includes any aspect of a member’s personal conduct which could have a negative impact on the profession’ (Institution of Civil Engineers). Was the rude, aggressive, and threatening outpouring from Icarus professional? What criteria does the relevant government department use to appoint such appalling people to approved lists? Simply receipt of an application form and the fee? There is no evidence of proper due diligence checks, otherwise inadequate self-styled ‘professionals’ like Icarus would be blocked.