A resident judge on the British Bases in Cyprus, who recently denied a removal request for two suspects in connection with an ongoing fake cocaine investigation, took the time in his remarks to issue a far-reaching indictment against the maladies of the Greek Cypriot criminal justice system.
SBA Associate Judge Theo Karamanis last month denied a request filed by Greek Cypriot prosecutors, who asked the British Bases to hand over two suspects in connection with an ongoing narcotics investigation in Greece and Cyprus.
In a document dated August 19 that emerged this week in local media, the judge dismissed the request saying that ordering such a removal “may be unjust and oppressive” while adding it was “clearly not in the interests of justice to do so.”
SBA Police had joined an investigation with Greek and Cypriot authorities into a cocaine shipment from Piraeus to Limassol. Reports said Hellenic drug enforcement agents had been tipped off about a Limassol-bound refrigerated container at the Greek port, regarding bananas from Ecuador, containing 14 packages of cocaine weighing total of 17.66 kilos.
Karamanis said it would be logical to assume that successful appeals proportionally must be 'the tip of the iceberg' of wrongful convictions and excessive sentences in the Greek Cypriot south
In early August, after Greek drug squad officers reportedly had removed the drugs and placed dummy packages for a controlled delivery to Cyprus, SBA officers arrested two Greek Cypriot men in their early to mid forties on trespassing charges at a fruit and vegetable storage facility in the Asomatos area of Akrotiri.
But when Greek Cypriot prosecutors requested that the two suspects be handed over, their lawyers argued that their clients’ arrestable offenses -trespassing and conspiracy- had been committed on British Base soil and had nothing to do with drugs.
As it turned out, Judge Karamanis sided with the legal arguments by the defense but he also provided in his ruling an extensive list of reasons why he saw no basis to order the removal of the two suspects, an act which would have been equivalent to extradition between jurisdictions of two countries.
Right to speedy trial
Karamanis made references to the right to a speedy trial, saying it was not uncommon in the Republic of Cyprus for an accused person to be refused bail at the outset with a trial about 18 months thereafter.
“The subsequent appeal against an average sentence of say 4 years imprisonment about 18 months after trial is frequently thwarted because the Accused must then elect between taking early release or pursuing his appeal,” the judge noted, arguing that there was a strong incentive for convicts to withdraw their appeals before they are heard.
Karamanis also took note of the dilemma that he described as “a travesty of justice” saying it would be logical to assume that successful appeals proportionally must be “the tip of the iceberg” of wrongful convictions and excessive sentences in the Greek Cypriot south.
“In my experience and knowledge of ‘Cypriot on Cypriot’ cases within the SBAs where the Accused elect for trial in the RoC; proceedings have never been laid in the RoC within the 3 month SBA statutory time limit,” said Karamanis, adding that even allegations of domestic violence with minor children as victims were outside the scope while allegations in general could take up to a decade to be tried in a Greek Cypriot court of law.
The judge also said there was lack of specific case-related information in last month’s request as to when any ongoing investigation would be concluded or whether the suspects would be charged with any offences in the Republic of Cyprus.
Arrest warrants not up to par
He also scolded the authors of the Greek Cypriot arrest warrants, which had been presented in the removal application to the SBA. The warrants had stated there was reasonable suspicion based on evidence of offences in addition to conspiracy to commit a felony namely those of importation and possession of Class A drugs as well as money laundering.
“There is no reference whatsoever in the application,” the judge noted, saying no specific evidence was presented to support any criminal activity by the suspects outside the SBA’s territories in relation to the importation, possession, or money laundering charges.
According to the judge, a conspiracy charge on the arrest warrant did not necessarily lead to a reasonable inference that the detained individuals were part of the alleged conspiracy being investigated from the outset.
Karamanis also directed the attention of law enforcement authorities to the bill of landing, which was not linked to the arrested individuals, but it would instead relate to the business, which is named in the document, or their agents, adding that any known suspects regarding “preparatory actions” would probably fall within Greece’s jurisdiction.
“In relation to possible importation and/or possession charges there is no evidence or information whatsoever to suggest that the [arrested persons] themselves had control over the narcotics prior to their being seized by the Grecian authorities,” the judge ruled.
The judge also said there was no evidence to support reasonable suspicion of the money laundering allegations in the Greek Cypriot warrant.
Issues with Greek Cypriot judges
Karamanis also argued that Greek Cypriot judges, including those dealing with serious and complex cases, were “neither necessarily experienced nor knowledgeable in criminal cases,” while also raising concerns over judicial independence within the local society.
The SBA judge went on to point out that judges in the south came from the relatively small Greek Cypriot population on the island, taking up issue with close relationships, affiliations between the judiciary and legal profession, as well as other social and financial connections.