Dr Apostolides: The unwitting "face" of Cyprus Confidential

Economist Dr Alexander Apostolides has expressed his “disappointment” at unwittingly becoming the face of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ (ICIJ) video spot to promote its Cyprus Confidential report, which has since been taken down and replaced with an updated version.

“Yep, that is me, being the only face in camera during the 2-minute video launching the Cyprus papers investigation by @ICIJorg,” he said on X. “You probably are wondering how I got there – so do I.” (sic)

The original video

He went on to create a thread “that has the facts” explaining what had happened. “I was never a part of the investigation of the Cyprus papers, nor was I made aware of any of the allegations within,” Apostolides said.

As for what he thinks about the Cyprus Confidential report itself, the economist said it was "rehashed tropes" that are "out of date and tired", and completely disregard all the significant actions Cyprus has taken since Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

According to the economist, he was approached by German journalists for an interview in light of the US and UK sanctions and was asked about the challenges the Cypriot professional services sector was facing. He said he was not made aware of the Cyprus Confidential report, nor had he been privy to any of the information within.

Following his first post, Apostolides took to X again to confirm the film had been changed.

The new video spot included Apostolides as well as Theano Kalavana from Cypriot think tank OPEK, with a less prominent role.

The updated version

“In September I was invited to an interview with ZDF media group,” he said. Prior to the interview, there was a meeting with journalists from the German press, the OCCRP and ZDF.

“The discussion with the journalists was focused on the general context of the business services sector of Cyprus and its problems. I thought that the journalists I had in front of me were aware of the nuances of the relationship of Cyprus and Russia.”

In that meeting and in the interview that followed he said he pointed out the following:

“Cyprus joined the EU in 2004 with an onshore financial industry that had a lot of characteristics of an offshore industry, and lacked the right institutional framework. The 2013 financial crisis and the solution of the EU to bail in the banks increased Cypriot dependence to Russia, making its largest banks beholden to new Russian owners.”

The economist added, “Cyprus has done a lot to reduce its relationship with Russia, especially in terms of banking. Since the crisis, Cyprus has done a lot to overcome deficiencies in its compliance in terms of financial crime and money laundering. Yet more could be done, as indicated by past news stories (delay in removing Jho Low’s Cypriot passports, placing Cypriot individuals in sanctions)”.

Apostolides said he told the journalists that Cyprus’ system to deal with financial crime, money laundering and sanctions was too diverse to be effective and that structural changes were required. “The new government made the right announcements, and we now need to see policies being enacted,” he continued.

As the economist pointed out, all EU countries have a sector where they would like the relationship with Russia to be slowly wound down. For Italy, this is luxury goods, for Germany it is natural gas. For Cyprus it is the Business Services sector.

Apostolides also said that Cyprus has a strategic reason, “that no other EU country has”, for wanting to keep Russia engaged: Cyprus’ UN peacekeeping force, UNFYCIP, is renewed every 12 months, and Russia needs to at least not veto the renewal.

“The journalists asked if (they) can share my interview with other media, including the @ICIJorg,” he said. And knowing the work of the ICIJ on the Daphne Caruana Galicia case, he gave his consent.

“I was then surprised to see my face on camera in the spot launching the Cyprus papers, which are files which I had never seen,” said Apostolides, adding: “Despite being just a commentator, and not an investigator, I became a lightning rod for all interest and frustration related to the investigation.”

Explaining how it made him feel, he said, “What upset me was that my comments were in a general context of September, 2023, were Cypriot individuals and companies were then recently placed under US and UK sanctions. My comments were not a commentary to the allegations, because I did not have a purview to the allegations”.

It was also odd to put a mere commentator of the video, instead of the 270+ journalists who apparently worked on the files, he added. “If anything, it is a disservice of the work of those who worked on the investigation, as they placed me, who is not a government official, front and centre.”

But he said, “Most upsetting was the tone of the ICSJ article, which was rehashing tropes that were out of date and tired, ignoring genuine actions taken since the invasion of Russia in Ukraine, such as the closure of RCB bank”.

Apostolides argued that the tone used in the article is very similar to the one used during the 2013 financial crisis – “the dodgy Mediterranean Europeans, not to be trusted, who are not following EU rules. That is very disappointing”.

And so he said he felt the need to “apologise for my comments being placed in this context, which does a disservice to the Cypriots (you know who you are) who are working hard to ensure there is compliance in the Cyprus Business services sector. I would not want my comments to discourage their work”.

He added, “I stand by all my comments made in the context that they were made, which is not the context of the video. I was discussing the situation in Cyprus vis-a vis sanctions on September 2023, and not the allegations of the Cyprus papers”.

As for what the economist thinks now he has seen the allegations in the report, he said: “My first comment is that it appears it shows a system that has largely worked. There was so much documentation, and so much work placed to find issues, and what was found was serious, but limited if compared to the size of the sector.”

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