A War Over Words in Cyprus

In investigating the story of Poroshenko’s offshore companies, OCCRP talked to a half-dozen Cyprus lawyers. Many noted that Cyprus is a small country and that Poroshenko’s lawyers are viewed there as powerful.

One lawyer who did talk openly to OCCRP discovered what it means to get on the wrong side of the president’s supporters.

In May 2016, Cyprus lawyer Elena Constantinou interpreted for OCCRP the transaction form that Poroshenko’s company filed with the Cyprus registry which documented the transaction of almost €4 million. She said she had no doubts about the document.

“The word ‘metrita’ means ‘cash’ and nothing else,” she said. “The phrase ‘se idos’ means ‘payment in kind,’ so it could be promissory notes, shares, kilograms of metal, et cetera. While the shares were paid for, nearly € 4 million in full, only a part of it was in cash.”

Reporters for OCCRP spoke with six lawyers and one economist, and her interpretation has been supported by all but one of the lawyers.

In response, Volodymyr Ariev, a member of Parliament in Poroshenko’s bloc and a former reporter, published a blog post about Constantinou in which he emphasized that she is Russian by birth – and thus, presumably, had nationalistic reasons to undermine Poroshenko.

Ariev, who also heads the committee on culture, education, science and media in the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe, further accused Constantinou of being a suspect in a murder case. He quoted a 2015 article from the Independent, a newspaper in the United Kingdom, which named an Elena Constantinou as the prime suspect in the 1985 London murder of her husband, Aristos Constantinou, a millionaire of Greek Cypriot origin.

A few days later, political analyst Viktor Ukolov, whose blog says he is cooperating with the Poroshenko administration, posted a blog item about Constantinou, noting that she had made a number of reposts on Facebook in support of Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas.

In response, Constantinou said they got the wrong woman.

She published a post on Facebook in which she wrote that, at the time that the Independent claimed she had been married to a billionaire husband and the mother of his son, she was actually 16 years old and still attending high school in Moscow. She said she did not marry until 1989, or 4 years after the alleged murder, and that she has two daughters, but no son.

“My former husband, Nikos Constantinou, has never been a billionaire (unfortunately) [or] even a millionaire and is still alive and healthy living in Cyprus,” she wrote. Constantinou confirmed her pro-Russian sentiments, but said her comment to OCCRP was as a “Cyprus lawyer with 22 years of experience.”

Elena Constantinou passed away in June 2017 from natural causes.

Additional reporting by Stelios Orphanides (Cyprus).

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