The defense team of an Azeri man in Cyprus, suspected in an alleged plot to assassinate Israelis on the island, has invoked its client’s right to a public trial, arguing it would be unfair to him and the court to allow insinuations of terrorism fueling a media frenzy.
Greek Cypriot media said a well-known and established powerhouse in Nicosia has taken on the case of a 38-year-old Russian national, who was apprehended by law enforcement last month in Engomi during a secret operation that thwarted an alleged plot targeting Israeli businessmen.
The case has drawn a lot of local and international attention, with foreign reporters outside the courtroom coming from Israel and Iran, after the former accused the latter of being behind a terror plot. Tehran has denied the allegations, while Israeli officials went as far as to say they had intelligence sources that prove it.
A lawyer for the suspect has been quoted in The Times of Israel as saying their client “denies any terror links and has nothing to hide.”
The suspect was arrested on September 27 and was remanded the following day for eight days, the maximum period allowed by the Cypriot Constitution.
But state prosecutors on Wednesday requested more time for the suspect to remain behind bars, with the defense raising objections.
The defense lawyers argued that not having a public trial meant that offenses related to terrorism were getting massive publicity in the press
Following a request by lawyers to have court documents translated into Russian, the judge gave three days for the translations to take place and ordered the suspect back in jail until a new hearing set for Monday.
The defense attorneys also argued that their client had the right to a fair and public trial, calling on the judge to open the hearings because closed sessions “were giving such an impression that was unfair to him and the court.”
On the contrary, the lawyers argued, not having a public trial meant that offenses related to terrorism were getting massive publicity in the press.
The judge did not respond to the request but offered the defense a new hearing date for Monday, October 11, while also ordering the prosecution to have all documents, including arrest warrants and remand requests, be translated into Russian before the next session.
Earlier this week, investigators took the suspect to point out scenes in Paralimni, where he was said to have rented two vehicles. One of the cars was parked in Engomi, west Nicosia, where he was arrested as he approached the vehicle.
Iran-sponsored terror or unpaid Russian debts?
Law enforcement officers from Crime Prevention, Anti-Terrorism, and undercover cops took part in apprehending the suspect, while a loaded handgun with silencer was found in the vehicle.
Cyprus police said a fully-fledged investigation was underway, without confirming or denying any scenarios, including terrorism links and financial disputes.
Prior to Israeli claims over an alleged Iran-backed terror plot, reports pointed to Israeli-Cypriot businessman Teddy Sagi as the target, while four of his associates were also thought to have been sought out by suspect described in the media as an alleged contract killer.
Sagi, who was said to have been tipped off by Cypriot police over the alleged plot, had left the island just before the arrest.
It was also reported that Sagi had unpaid debts, owning money from his online gambling business to his Russian partners.
But the Israeli billionaire says he was never tipped off by police to leave the island but left on a scheduled business trip.
“The headlines sounded very scary, but it had nothing to do with me,” Sagi said according to Israeli media.
“I didn’t receive any notification to leave,” he added.
Israeli officials also say Sagi was never a target, nor his business dealings had anything to do with the case, arguing Israeli businessmen were being sought as part of “Iranian terror.”
“Iran continues to be a global and regional threat, and a challenge to Israel. We will continue to act to defend our citizens and the security of the State of Israel, everywhere and against any threat,” Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz told members of his party on Monday.
The Iranian embassy in Nicosia said accusations against Tehran or claims of the Islamic Republic’s involvement in the alleged plot were "baseless."