'Cyprus Confidential' put under the Parliament's microscope: "Steps were taken for compliance"

The House Committee on Legal Affairs, Justice and Public Order has been briefed on the negative reports published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, with MPs expressing the need for measures to be taken, while also suggesting that state institutions and procedures failed.

During the 22 November committee meeting, MPs were briefed by the competent authorities, after an ex officio investigation proposed by all the members of the Committee.

Attorney General George Savvides, the Minister of Justice Anna Koukkides-Procopiou, the Chief of Police, Stelios Papatheodorou, the new president of the Cyprus Bar Association, Michalis Vorkas, the Transparency Commissioner Haris Poyiatzis and the Governor of the Central Bank Constantinos Herodotou also attended the committee by invitation.

At the start of the session, the Chairman of the Legal Affairs Committee, Nicos Tornaritis, indicated that in the wake of the new revelations, "everything that comes to light makes us angry," however he acknowledged that steps must be taken. On his part, AKEL MP Aristos Damianou stated that answers should be given to a multitude of questions, while he spoke of institutional corruption and entanglement of previous years. From DIKO's point of view, Christiana Erotokritou indicated that, "If measures are not taken immediately, and justice works and the culprits are punished, what we experience every few months will continue and our country will continue to be dragged through the mud."

The President of the Republic was represented at the committee by the Director of his Office, Charalambos Charalambous, who reiterated that the President was clear and in no case either degrades nor belittles what was published. In fact, he recalled that after the publication of the investgation, an initial evaluation was made by staff from the Presidential Office, while an extraordinary meeting convened by Nicos Christodoulides on the matter followed the very next day.

Charalambous stated that "In the Service sector, the procedures and the legislation are followed to a large extent. In the last eleven years, steps have been taken for compliance, but it seems that there are some cases that need to be investigated and the matter should be clarifiedsoon." At the same time, he expressed the need to close the cases quickly, "so that the 'stain' does not remain."

In addition, the Director of the Office of the President, said that Nikos Christodoulides personally contacted the leadership of the country where the experts requested to assist Cyprus with handling the matter will come from, since, as he explained, he found that there are some issues, in relation to the speed investigations are carried out. In addition, he reminded that the creation of the Single Supervisory Authority is pending, which will also aim to combat laundering phenomena.

At the same time, Charalambous admitted that there is no uniformity in terms of administrative decisions, "and this is the issue that the Supervisory Authority wants to solve. The procedures should be defined and applied to all bodies in the field of administrative services". Finally, Charalambous explained that the President of the Republic will make announcements with the upcoming arrival of the experts.

On his part, Attorney General George Savvides, stated that, "I will not satisfy the request to provide a lot of information about the type of complaints being examined. However, there have been double-digit numbers of complaints coming from both here and overseas."

The Attorney General also said that a team has been set up at the Police to conduct an investigation while stating that some cases are at an advanced stage. Savvides said that a meeting had been held where the progress of the investigations was put on the table, noting at the same time that he instructed the Police to "study all the posts from the ICIJ Organisation and link them to the existing complaints, if there are relevant reports."

The Minister of Justice, Anna Koukkides-Procopiou, adopted the positions of the Director of the Office of the President of the Republic, repeating that no one is above the reputation of the country. She also said that she was monitoring, "the progress of the investigations, but not the investigations themselves."

At the same time, she emphasised that, "It is particularly important to say that there is a matter of further strengthening the investigative team. Sanctions are not simple things," she added while pointing out that, for this reason, the need arose for foreign experts to come.

The Chief of Police Stelios Papatheodorou only wanted to add is that some Cypriot banking institutions have proceeded to freeze bank accounts connected to some cases that are being investigated, while in relation to the arrival of foreign experts, he said that "they are welcome."

On his part, the Commissioner for Transparency, Haris Poyiatzis, clarified that there are no complaints before the Authority concerning people involved in the investigation that has recently seen the light of day. He also wanted to mention that in relation to his comments that investigations by an attorney into naturalisations were not allowed, he wanted to clarify that the Law itself does not permit it. Poyiatzis appeared annoyed and wanted to clarify that based on the Legislation parallel investigations are not carried out and therefore the Law does not allow parallel investigations.

The Governor of the Central Bank, Constantinos Herodotou, also appeared annoyed with the reports that institutions are not reacting to the negative reports, referring to the actions taken immediately, after some cases, such as for example the case of the passports revealed by Al Jazeera. He even recalled that fines exceeding ten million euros were imposed, while he also assured that the controls of the Central Bank focus on high-risk individuals.

The President of the Cyprus Bar Association, Michalis Vorkas, indicated on his part that it is not right to target the entire legal sector. He explained that since 2022, a total of 177 checks were carried out, of which seventeen concerned naturalisations. "In 2023, 62 relevant checks were carried out. Regarding the checks, some cases have been brought before the CBA, where convictions and fines of 400,000 euros were imposed," he said.

As Vorkas explained, the convictions related to incorrect checks or oversights, which had to do with not correctly categorising customers, with not properly researching customers, regarding who they are and some had to do with the source of income of the customers, who would have proceeded or proceeded to use for investments.

"Regarding the sanctions, we asked our members to let us know if they provided services to people who were on the sanction lists. 36 specific providers responded and from relevant checks and information we received, after evaluating the data we proceeded to seven complaints to the Police, two cases are under study by the relevant supervisory authority, to see if we will proceed with a complaint to the Police," Vorkas concluded.

From the point of view of accountants, the representative of the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Cyprus (ICPAC), its General Manager Kyriakos Iordanou informed the MPs that the licenses of three offices and a natural person who were on the British Sanctions list have been suspended. "We have submitted ten cases to the Police for further investigation, so through the work we have done before the publications came out, those that we considered needed to be checked, have been referred to the authorities," he said.

Iordanou added that, "During 2022 we carried out 150 inspections, while for the first 9 months of 2023, 113 inspections were carried out. We have a task force made up of a foreign company that we employ and it was strengthened by 50%. It would be useful to mention that we have also been in contact with international bodies, recently, but also with journalists from the task force that did the reporting and we discussed their findings and let them know about the role that we, as a supervisor, play in promoting the legislative framework for money laundering."

"Our suggestion," said Iordanou, "is that for the issue of supervision of the financial sector, it should be taken in a general national context, there should be a central guiding body, which will guide the supervisors in the context of each sector, where the job of imposing sanctions is not done well. An independent body modeled on the British model should be established," he concluded.

(Source: Reporter)

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