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25 June, 2024
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Officers to face discipline in serial killer case

Police committee recommends disciplinary action in Orestis case after state dropped criminal prosecution


A police internal affairs committee in the Republic of Cyprus has recommended disciplinary action against members of law enforcement in the island’s serial killer probe, after criminal prosecution was ruled out against officers and superiors who dropped the ball on cases of missing women later found murdered.

According to local media, the Independent Authority for the Investigation of Allegations and Complaints Against the Police has decided to push forward with disciplinary action against 17 police officers for dereliction of duty in the case of five women and two children – all foreign nationals – who were reported missing but no action had been taken until they were all found murdered.

The committee said it reviewed a special report with evidence last month and decided to seek disciplinary action against identified members of the police force regarding “offenses involving violations or omissions and/or dereliction of duty.”

Last year, after a special probe identified two dozen officers allegedly involved in dereliction of duty and other types of behavior, including actions with racist undertones, former attorney general Costas Clerides concluded that 15 members of the Cyprus Police Force should face criminal prosecution for the way they handled the missing cases.

But Attorney General George Savvides ordered a secondary probe to evaluate the findings, with the Legal Department concluding last month that criminal prosecution could not be justified against sergeants and frontline officers, citing lack of protocols and procedures regarding missing persons.

Pieces of evidence gathered against the officers were also described as inadequate to build a strong criminal case in court, with reports suggesting the prosecution could not find willing witnesses who could help authorities get a conviction.

Local media also reported that Legal did not believe criminal intent could be proven beyond reasonable doubt in a court of law, while admitting there were training issues and possibly institutional racism or behavior with racist undertones within the police force.

The authors of the report said they found “tragic mistakes” during the course of investigations into complaints of the missing women.

Evidence against the officers was deemed inadequate to build a strong criminal case in court, while hints of legal wars prompted officers to lawyer up following a previous decision to prosecute

Last year there were also hints of legal wars brewing within prosecutorial desks across agencies in the Republic of Cyprus, with those identified in the probe findings lawyering up following the initial decision to prosecute officers.

Media sources said 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.

Last month, a group of protesters called on the state attorney to reconsider and order criminal prosecution. Slogans heard during the demonstration included “institutional racism, absurd decision, infamy that brings shame on the attorney’s office” as well as other messages against sexism, racism, and patriarchy.

In April 2019, a group of bikers on a Sunday road trip in rural Nicosia looked down an abandoned mineshaft and saw what appeared to be a decomposed body. Following the initial discovery, believed to have been brought about by chance following heavy rain that exposed a decomposed corpse, a total of seven bodies, five women and two young girls, were discovered in the wider area, all of them foreign nationals who were initially reported to authorities as missing.

Local media reported on police officers who routinely dismissed concerns about the missing women or even failed to pursue clues about a suspect who later pleaded guilty to seven counts of murder.

There was no trial in any of the murders. A former husband of one of the adult victims - and father of the youngest victim - was initially arrested but later released during his remand, after phone evidence quickly pointed to another suspect. Self-confessed and convicted serial killer Nikos Metaxas, also known online as Orestis, is serving multiple life sentences for the murders.

The case initially had come to be known as the Filipina murders, when it emerged that more women from the Philippines were missing and it was reported that Orestis admitted to police he “had a thing” for Filipino women.

Other Filipinas living or working in Cyprus came forward after his arrest was made public, saying they were approached physically or online by a persistent man known to them as Orestis.

The first body that was discovered belonged to 38-year-old Marry Rose Tiburcio from the Philippines. She had been reported missing along with her daughter, 6-year-old Sierra Graze Seucalliuc, whose body was tossed into a nearby lake.

The body of Αrian Palanas Lozano, 28 years old also from the Philippines, was found along with Marry Rose, while another Filipina, 30-year-old Maricar Valdez Arquiola, was found in a red lake near the mineshaft inside a suitcase.

Two others were found in suitcases in the same red lake, Romanian mother Livia Florentina Bunea, 36, and her 8-year-old daughter Elena Natalia Bunea. All six victims died of strangulation while another woman from Nepal, 30-year-old Asmita Khadka Bista, had signs of strangulation as well as head trauma while parts of her body were found in a remote pit on a military firing range also in rural Nicosia.

The Cypriot government has apologized to the families of the victims, pledging assistance and vowing to get to the bottom of what actually happened that led to missing complaints being mishandled by police.

Cyprus’ Police Chief will receive the committee recommendations and will be responsible for ordering any disciplinary action in accordance with rules and regulations.

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