A local report hints at legal wars brewing within prosecution agencies in the Republic of Cyprus, following the attorney general’s decision to prosecute fifteen police officers in the serial killer case.
Attorney General Costas Clerides recently concluded that the prosecution of 15 members of the Cyprus Police Force should go forward in connection with an independent investigation that examined actions or inactions by police in handling missing complaints of foreign women and children.
Clerides gave the go ahead for police officials, sergeants and front line officers to face prosecution for the way they handled missing cases of five women and two young girls, all foreign nationals, who ended up being killed on the island.
The mother of the victim wrote to Legal Services about information that her daughter was the victim of a crime with the department deferring her back to police
Self-confessed and convicted serial killer Nikos Metaxas, also known online as Orestis, is serving multiple life sentences for the crimes.
But according to daily Politis, police sources told the newspaper that members of law enforcement were disgruntled over the initial decision to investigate only police, thus excluding other agents including members of the legal services department.
Politis reported that police officers facing prosecution have already hired lawyers, who are expected to call legal department employees including the soon-to-retire attorney general himself to the witness stand.
Narrow scope of investigation
Investigators came across signs of possible failure and dereliction of duty on the part of police in connection with the case, pointing to possible disciplinary offences for nearly two dozen front line officers and their superiors.
But according to Politis, police advocates say a probe into possible wrongdoing by others outside the force was from the get-go wrongly beyond the scope of the investigation, while citing leaked reports that pointed to at least three cases having being handled by legal department officials.
Phone records and privacy debate
In one case, the mother of one of the victims was said to have written a letter to the Legal Services Department, asking for privacy protections to be lifted in order for her daughter’s phone data to be examined.
The Legal department deferred the case to police, according to previous reports, saying it was up to law enforcement to carry out investigations into missing persons.
But police maintained they did not have proper authority to violate privacy protocols. Law enforcement officials went on dismissing criticism over the issue, saying they did not have the proper legal tools and calling on parliament to legislate for unrestricted access to phone records in cases of missing persons.
What does the law actually say
According to the penal code in the Republic of Cyprus, police officers could obtain a court warrant for access to telecommunications data if they suspect a crime has been committed, including kidnapping.
But police said legislators in the past had excluded references to “disappearances” when it came to privacy protections for alleged perpetrators, while “abductions,” which by definition are criminal offences, did not fall into that protected category.
A legal debate then ensued as to whether a police officer’s reasonable suspicion over a crime being committed could be ascertained in a disappearance, with experts saying law enforcement officers had the authority to press on if and when they suspected a crime had been committed.
Citing leaked information, Politis says the mother of the murdered victim had written in her letter to the Legal Services that she “had information about her [missing] daughter being the victim of a criminal act,” with the department deferring her back to Police.
The first steps in the prosecution cases against police officers are reportedly taking place as early as this week, with the “Independent Authority for the Investigation of Allegations and Complaints Against the Police” expected to invoke Article 134 of the Penal Code, Chapter 154, regarding dereliction of duty by Civil Servants.