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25 November, 2020
 
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President defends block on audit office

Audit office insists on access to casino-linked files, president says auditor does not have a say in everything

Newsroom

President Nicos Anastasiades invoked the Constitution during a televised interview, saying the job description of the auditor general, who is currently seeking information on foreign nationals linked to a casino project, does not authorize him to “have a say in everything.”

In a televised interview on Sigma aired Tuesday night, Anastasiades weighed in on the golden passports scandal, including a dispute between Auditor General Odysseas Michaelides and Interior Minister Nikos Nouris, who has been refusing to hand over a number of files for audit inspection citing an independent probe that was recently put together by a Cabinet decision.

“The auditor general has specific duties, he does not have a say in everything as does the attorney general,” the president said.

Anastasiades was responding to a question over why he and his government administration would not allow Michaelides to obtain files from the interior ministry in connection with foreign nationals and investors, who may have applied and received Cypriot passports through a disgraced Citizenship by Investment Programme.

The Cabinet decided to suspend the CIP effective on 1 November 2020, after Al Jazeera published a secret video earlier this month on alleged corruption, implicating high-ranking politicians and a network of enablers on the island.

On Wednesday morning, audit office administrator Marios Petrides told state radio that his boss had asked for specific files in order to carry out tax inspections in a comprehensive manner, including the possibility that tax actions could be linked to other irregularities.

'If more videos follow that show the President is involved, he will accept responsibility, that is resignation, straight out, I have nothing to worry, that’s why I talk this way'

Michaelides says he has constitutional authority to inspect not only tax issues but also whether any financial transactions were legitimate or could have been based on violations in other areas of the law.

The government disputes the auditor general’s argument, saying he should focus only on checking the numbers on taxes and leave other issues to an independent committee tasked with sifting through all cases of Cypriot citizenship granted through the investment program since its introduction in 2007 and until 17 August 2020.

Local media said the audit office learned that 18 foreign nationals linked to a casino project in Limassol obtained Cypriot passports on the same day, without any known information on either having bought real estate or invested otherwise in the island’s economy.

According to Petrides, a shareholder or director in a company, which took part in winning the bid during a public tender process for the casino in Limassol, would not have become eligible for a passport through the Citizenship by Investment Programme.

Opposition leaders from left party AKEL and centre DIKO have cranked up the pressure on the government to allow the audit office to carry out its own independent probe, with reports saying DIKO even threatened not to vote the state fiscal budget if Michaelides was not given access.

“It is acceptable for a party not to vote the state budget if there are differences in political and economic views, but it is not acceptable to use blackmail in connection with a totally different issue,” government spokesperson Kyriacos Koushios responded.

Koushios’ name, along with President Anastasiades and other members of the Cabinet including current and former ministers, came up in recent media reports as having ties with law firms dealing with golden passports.

Anastasiades said during the interview that 50% of his former law firm belonged to his daughters and the other half belonged to other associates.

“This effort by spreading rumorus to undermine the morality of the President of the Republic and members of his family is demoralizing and dishonest,” Anastasiades said.

The president also responded to rumors that Al Jazeera was preparing a new video on the Cypriot passport scheme, saying “if more [videos] follow that show the President is involved, he will accept responsibility, that is resignation, straight out, I have nothing to worry, that’s why I talk this way.”

Anastasiades went on to say that individuals implicated in the undercover video never said they could "go and see the president" because, as he explained, they never came to him and would never dare. He recalled a quote from the video when an individual was secretly recorded as saying "he who knows angels, need not know god."

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