Minister scoffs at family link claims over land deal

first_imgBy Stefanos EvripidouINTERIOR MINISTER Socrates Hasikos yesterday rubbished as “nonsense” claims that his family were somehow connected to a disputed real estate deal involving the pension fund of state telecoms company (CyTA), and vowed to stamp out corruption as long as he was in office.Opposition AKEL yesterday suggested his father-in-law was implicated in the affair which saw CyTA’s pension fund purchase real estate near Larnaca airport for €27m, when, according to Hasikos, it could have bought similar-sized property nearby for €15m.AKEL further accused the government of leaking testimony given to the committee appointed last month by cabinet to investigate allegations of dodgy dealings as part of a wider effort to divert attention from banking scandals and efforts to privatise semi-government organisations.The case involves the purchase of land near Larnaca Airport in 2011 by CyTA’s pension fund from Wadnic Trading Ltd at allegedly twice its value, when a nearby piece of land was reportedly being sold for far less.Hasikos had called for the appointment of an investigating committee to look into the purchase, claiming it was “a stitch-up from beginning to end”.Wadnic bought the land in Dromolaxia from its Turkish Cypriot owner, changed the term of use of the land, upgraded the coefficients, and sold it on to the CyTA pension fund, allegedly many times over the price originally paid to the original owner.Last week it transpired that the Secret Service (KYP) had produced two conflicting reports on whether the Turkish Cypriot in question had resided in the government-controlled areas for the necessary six months prior to selling his land.The land deal included the construction of four office blocks, which the pension fund planned to rent out at competitive prices to those with commercial interests in Larnaca airport but who do not want to pay top dollar for airport space.According to a statement issued yesterday by the pension fund’s management committee, the fund followed procedures fully and transparently before buying the real estate. They studied the investment opportunity for a year, requested two independent valuations and negotiated with the seller before giving final approval in February 2011.The first payment, believed to be €9.2m, was made in November 2011.However, last Saturday, a number of local papers reported on the testimony given by businessman Charalambos Liotatis and his wife Panayiota to the investigating committee earlier in the week.According to the reports, Liotatis claimed he had lent €1.6m to Wadnic to buy the land from the Turkish Cypriot, who was employed by Liotatis.He noted in his testimony that the elderly Turkish Cypriot worked in the government-controlled areas, but never lived there during that time.Liotatis claimed that after the pension fund paid the first instalment of €9.2m on November 3, 2011, the businessman asked Wadnic to return part of his loan.Instead, he was allegedly told he could not be repaid immediately because the company had to disburse a significant amount of money in bribes.Specifically, Liotatis allegedly claimed the bribes were divided into €1m earmarked for an AKEL MP, another €1m for a senior CyTA official, an unspecified sum would go to AKEL, and €500,000 to the two big unions.Responding to the allegations on Saturday, AKEL MP Nicos Katsourides said they were groundless, and threatened to take legal action.CyTA chairman Stathis Kittis said the case was “rigged”, and rejected allegations of him taking bribes, saying they were “blatantly false”.Kittis counter-argued that Hasikos was leaning on the pension fund because it had failed to purchase an alternative piece of land near to the one eventually bought. This second plot was owned by Airsun Properties Ltd, whose majority shareholder is Hasikos’ father-in-law Frixos Koulermos. Smaller shareholders are Liotatis himself who owns 0.5 per cent of the company, and another company owned by Hasikos’ sister-in-law and husband.The plot thickened further when press reports claimed Liotatis made the same serious allegations to police a year ago.AKEL spokesman Giorgos Loukaides yesterday questioned whether it was “ethically correct for a committee to be appointed by a minister whose father-in-law, as publicly acknowledged by the minister, is the partner of a witness, and based on allegations, was a competitor in the issue under discussion.”He also accused the government of leaking Liotatis’ testimony for a number of reasons: to divert public opinion from a series of scandals surfacing involving banks and former DISY ministers, to get their mind off the impact of the Eurogroup decisions last March and to prepare to sell off semi-government organisations.Deputy government spokesman Victoras Papadopoulos said AKEL’s claims against the government were “lacking in seriousness”.Speaking to state broadcaster yesterday, Hasikos rubbished allegations of his family’s involvement.“It’s nonsense.”He rejected allegations that his father-in-law’s company Airsun was in competition with Wadnic.“No way. It was a stitch up. What competitor? Let them be patient and see who the competitors are,” said the minister, noting that the deal only came to light because a competitor raised the issue.He said Liotatis, at the end of the day, was a victim because he was persuaded to give €1.6m to finance the purchase of the property.Speaking of himself, he said: “The minister knows what he’s doing. I’ve been in politics for 20 years.”He added: “The country, the state, the people cannot take it anymore, to have some stealing and others, like victims, paying for it… For as long as I can, and as long as I’ll be there (ministry), that is how I’ll act, take it or leave it.”Attorney-general Petros Clerides confirmed yesterday that he had asked the investigating committee to send him files to examine whether a criminal probe should be launched following the allegations.Asked why the police did not take action after June 2012 when Liotatis first gave a testimony on the affair, he said he was not aware of the contents of that statement and could not judge “whether police actions were correct or not”.Clerides said he would look into the matter and see what exactly was said last year to the police and what action was taken, if any.Loizos Papacharalambous, one of two CyTA board members who resigned at the weekend, said the property deal in 2011 “certainly did not go unnoticed because it’s not every day you get property purchases between a Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot which was then passed on to the pension fund…, but, you cannot depend on whispers and rumours if there isn’t something tangible”.He and his colleague Antonis Antoniou decided that they were morally obliged to resign and let the investigation take place.“What I find strange is that police had these allegations since June 2012 and no one from the police invited us to give a statement on what we knew or didn’t. And I wonder why the investigation did not start from June 2012,” said Papacharalambous.Unions PEO and SEK have denied any involvement in the possible scandal, highlighting that unions do not sit on the board of the pension fund and therefore have no say over investment decisions.You May LikeLivestlyChip And Joanna’s $18M Mansion Is Perfect, But It’s The Backyard Everyone Is Talking AboutLivestlyUndoPopularEverythingColorado Mom Adopted Two Children, Months Later She Learned Who They Really ArePopularEverythingUndoFreedom Debt ReliefPeople In Heavy Debt Are In For A SurpriseFreedom Debt ReliefUndo Pensioner dies after crash on Paphos-Polis roadUndoRemand for pair in alleged property fraud (Updated)UndoConcern over falling tourism numbersUndoby Taboolaby Taboolalast_img

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