A defense attorney in the golden passport trial set to begin next month raised a conflict of interest on Monday, when his client and former House speaker along with three other defendants appeared for their arraignment before a Nicosia district judge.
Cypriot high-powered attorney Chris Triantafyllides, who represents former House speaker Demetris Syllouris, raised a conflict of interest when he asked the judge to take note that Attorney General George Savvides and Deputy Attorney General Savvas Angelides both served as ministers and sat in Cabinet meetings when golden passports were approved.
Syllouris was implicated in the scandal after an Al Jazeera undercover investigation suggested the former House speaker was involved in a cash-for-passport scheme, along with three others, businessman and former MP Christakis Giovanis, Paralimni lawyer Andreas Pittadjis, Antonis Antoniou who was the exetuve director of the Giovanis Group.
A total of five charges include conspiracy to defraud the state and influencing a public official.
But Triantafyllides took issue with the charges one by one, saying Savvides and Angelides were implicated in their former capacity as ministers of justice and defense respectively. The two officials, who presided over the prosecution of Syllouris, “had decided in favor of approval for passports in question for which Mr. Syllouris is in court today,” the lawyer said.
Critics also raised questions about the charges, which were based on probe findings by an independent committee whose members had been assigned by none other than the attorney general himself
The lawyer also said in the fourth and fifth charges against his client, there was no name provided for the foreign investor.
“Earth’s population is nearly 7.5 billion, I cannot defend my client properly if I do not know who is this foreign national,” Triantafyllides said.
The lawyer handed a letter to state prosecutor Elli Papagapiou in which he asked the attorney general, who is also acting as chief prosecutor, to name the foreign national in connection with the two last charges.
Two years ago, the four defendants were caught on video appearing to offer support to a fictitious Chinese businessman with a criminal conviction who sought their help in obtaining a Cypriot passport through the country’s disgraced Citizenship for Investment Program.
All four defendants deny the accusations.
The trial is set to begin on October 26 with local media saying the case could get complicated as it involves politics, media publications and allegations of defamation, as well as legal issues including apparent conflicts of interest.
Critics also raised questions about the charges, which were based on probe findings by an independent committee whose members had been assigned by none other than the attorney general himself.
Two weeks ago the state’s Audit Office said it was sending its own reports to the Legal Department as well as providing copies to the country’s newly established Independent Authority against Corruption, which would be required to review receipted material.
Auditor General Odysseas Michaelides had been at odds with Savvides after the chief law enforcer at the Legal Department blocked the audit office from investigating golden passports.
“Without questioning the powers of the Attorney General, but because it is a fact that he had taken part in a large number of Cabinet decisions, we feel that it would be appropriate on our part to forward our report to the anti-corruption authority for its own investigations,” Michaelides said.
AKEL MP Irini Charalambides, who also serves as OSCE’s Special Representative on Fighting Corruption, took things further by calling out the attorney general.
“You cannot be a government minister, serve on the Cabinet that approved the passports, and then be the one to decide on the prosecution of those involved, and believe me, there are many,” Charalambides said.