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25 June, 2024
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National Guard's death raises questions on Cyprus justice system

Unravelling the mystery of Thanasis Nicolaou's death and what went wrong in the investigation spanning nearly two decades

Apostolis Tomaras

Apostolis Tomaras

Revelations surrounding the death of National Guardsman Thanasis Nicolaou, emerging years after the incident, have sparked both sensation and concern about the functioning of the criminal justice system in Cyprus. Acknowledgment by justice officials of significant errors in the investigation raises reasonable suspicions, potentially hinting at a cover-up. These revelations could have far-reaching implications, adding to the existing challenges faced by the system. Questions about what went wrong and the absence of regular evaluations cast doubts on the National Guard case being an isolated incident.

Unraveling the investigation

Nicolaou's death in 2005, initially attributed to a fall, saw doubts cast from the start. The ongoing inquiry intensifies suspicions that his demise may have involved others. Andreas Kapardis questions the initial seriousness with which state authorities approached the case, highlighting a superficial investigation. The key question remains: What went wrong in the investigative process?

Absence of review or evaluation

Was it a flawed investigation or an attempted cover-up? Kapardis refrains from a direct stance due to the ongoing process but emphasizes the broader issue of the absence of regular evaluations in Cyprus. Regular assessments, especially in forensic services, are crucial to improving and maintaining public trust.

The procedure

Kapardis asserts unequivocally that a process for criminal offenses exists but depends on the initial perception. Reports of flaws in the death penalty interrogation raise concerns about the system's application. Skepticism surrounds allegations against the forensic expert, emphasizing the need for other experts to assess the situation.

Addressing weaknesses

In light of unfolding developments, Kapardis stresses the weaknesses in the system that need addressing. Regular evaluations and improvements are imperative to maintain public trust in the criminal justice system. The National Guard case highlights the need for a thorough examination of existing processes and procedures.

The chronicle of the "Thanasis Nicolaou" case:

On 12 July 2005, 26-year-old Thanasis Nicolaou, an Australian citizen serving a six-month reduced military service, joins the National Guard. Following training at the Limassol New Conscripts Training Centre, he is stationed at the 'Eumenios Panayiotou' camp in Polemidia.

Tragedy strikes on 29 September 2005, as Thanasis Nicolaou is found dead under the bridge of Alassa in Limassol. Forensic pathologist Panikos Stavrianos conducts an autopsy at the Morgue of the Limassol General Hospital, and the case is opened at Lania Police Station on 1 October.

By 16 June 2006, Panikos Stavrianos's report concludes no signs of criminal activity, and the police find no evidence suggesting a criminal act. The National Guard report on 4 July 2006 mentions suicide, recommending closing the investigation due to the absence of criminal activity.

On 6 December 2007, the President of the Provincial Court confirms the forensic examination's findings, stating no evidence of foul play. However, on 31 December 2008, the Supreme Court overturns the initial forensic examination's findings.

The Attorney General, on 25 November 2009, ruled no criminal act was established based on the second forensic examiner's findings. In 2011, the Council of Ministers appointed criminal investigators Andreas Stavrou and Alexandros Saouris, along with forensic expert Marios Matsakis, to re-examine the case.

Marios Matsakis, on 27 April 2012, opines that Nicolaou's injuries do not align with a fall from the bridge, suggesting foul play should not be ruled out. Criminal investigators Stavrou and Saouris, on 21 December 2012, concluded the death was likely a criminal act.

Despite doubts, a new investigation continues, and in April 2014, the Prosecutor General ruled no new evidence for further investigation. Financial support for the family is decided by the Council of Ministers.

In November 2014, Prosecutor General Costas Clerides orders a new investigation, followed by the Nicolaou family filing a civil lawsuit in 2016-2017.

In September 2018, Prosecutor General Costas Clerides finds exhaustive investigation but no testimony indicating a criminal act. The ECHR condemns Cyprus in January 2020 for inadequate investigation, ordering a compensation of 32,000 euros to Nicolaou's family.

In December 2020, the exhumation of Nicolaou's remains occurs. On 26 January 2021, a court order transfers his hyoid bone to the 1st Laboratory of Pathological Anatomy of the Medical School of the University of Athens.

Criminal investigators Achilleas Emilianides, Savvas Matsas, and Antonis Alexopoulos are appointed in October 2021. The new forensic report in June 2021 reveals the cause of Nicolaou's death as strangulation.

On 13 August 2022, investigators Matsas and Alexopoulos identify criminal responsibility. The death investigation commences in October-November 2023.

[This article was translated from its Greek original and edited for brevity and clarity]

Cyprus  |  Thanasis  |  crime

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