A Cypriot state pathologist who ruled as suicide the killing of a soldier seventeen years ago is pointing the finger at police investigators, giving credence to accusations by an outspoken colleague in the private sector who says state forensic probes can be fraught with a slipshod mindset and even cover-ups.
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State forensic pathologist Panicos Stavrinos announced publicly last week that he was the official who signed off on the death certificate of Thanasis Nicolaou, a 26-year-old Cypriot-Australian conscript who was found dead under a bridge in Alassa in 2005.
Nicolaou’s death was officially ruled a suicide but evidence kept away from the public and gathered over a long campaign by the victim’s family have shown the soldier had been strangled to death before his body was placed under the bridge. According to an unseen and partially-leaked report, persons of interest and likely suspects were named but questioned by authorities, while police officers were also identified for dereliction of duty.
After information was leaked in the media last month, Stavrinos expressed concerns over his safety without giving more details and called for police protection as his “life is in danger.”
'Everyone does whatever they think or believe. Some don't know how to do their job and others cover things up' Matsakis claimed, adding that there were situations that never saw the light of day
In a letter through his lawyer, according to Philenews, Stavrinos implied that the responsibility for errors lied with the police officials who got involved in the case, accusing them of stalling tactics as well as failing to do their job properly.
Last week police said they would offer protection to Stavrinos, who maintains that his rights have been violated both by independent investigators as well as news media following leaks of their report.
Stavrinos’ claim came just weeks after the quality and integrity of the forensic department were brought into question by private forensic pathologist Marios Matsakis, who described the way of doing things as a “slipshod situation.”
Matsakis revealed last month that he had been tasked by the President’s Cabinet seven years after the incident to look into the soldier’s death by reviewing documents in the case, which was at the time being reviewed by the Strasbourg-based ECHR that later found the Republic guilty of violating human rights by having botched the investigation.
“In the report [to the Cabinet] I pointed out there were serious gaps and omissions from the forensic department and the police,” said Matsakis, who was appointed by the Nicolaou family more recently to represent their interests.
But Matsakis did not stop there. The well-known expert, who also served as member of the European Parliament, claimed that the quality of state forensic work in some murder cases in the Republic of Cyprus as well as relations between medical examiners and law enforcement were fraught with problems.
“Everything that has been said does not surprise me because it is what I said in my report 10 years ago,” Matsakis said.
List of botched investigations goes on and on
The private expert went on to reveal there were cases where “terrible mistakes” had been made, suggesting a long list of botched investigations.
“I can give you a whole list of cases in which terrible mistakes had been made. Let’s take the Strovolos double murder case, the murder case of the woman in Dherynia, the dog mauling case in Paphos… I can give you an entire list of cases,” Matsakis said.
Asked if there was “institutional cover-up” in Cyprus, Matsakis said “everything is possible in Cyprus,” adding he got tired of speaking with officials in the last 30 years.
“Everyone does whatever they think or believe. Some don't know how to do their job and others cover things up,” Matsakis claimed, adding that there were even situations that never saw the light of day.
This week Attorney General George Savvides tasked four police investigators to probe the Nicolaou case further, including obtaining new statements from Stavrinos and other persons of interest, citing recommendations in a report he had ordered and received from two independent criminal investigators, Savvas Matas and Alexis Alexopoulos.
But Matsas, who was fired earlier this week by Savvides for speaking publicly about the investigation, has questioned the motives of the attorney general, who serves both as chief prosecutor and legal advisor to the state.
“I never revealed any information that ought not to have been made public,” Matsas said upon learning about his termination, adding he never said anything beyond making “general statements as part of letting the public know about the case and where we ended up 11.5 months after getting to study the evidence.”
But the attorney general, who initially blocked specialized tests abroad in the case, maintains that he pulled Matsas from any further investigation because he had made statements that revealed content from the probe report, arguing comments were in breach of confidentiality.
“We have witnessed a systematic and continuous violation of our own obligation, before and after he had received warnings, that simply cannot allow us to extend his part in further investigations,” Savvides said.
Revamp the system
Matsakis has called for a revamp of the system within the forensics department, and went on to clarify that he believed there were issues with both forensic investigations, problems with police investigations, as well as how cases were being handled by the prosecutors and courts.
“I told everyone about this, in the House and in public,” he said.
Matsakis also made news in 2019 when he raised a question in Cyprus’ first serial killer case, also known as the Filipina murders, with the expert wondering whether army officer Nikos Metaxas had acted alone.
Metaxas, who was also known by his social media handle Orestis, did not go to trial. He refused legal representation and pleaded guilty to seven murders, five women and two children - all foreign nationals, with the case being closed when the judge handed down consecutive life sentences.