Cyprus to Probe Graft Allegations against Former President Nicos Anastasiades

Опубликовано: 20 Февраль 2024

Nicos AnastasiadesNicos Anastasiades, former President of Cyprus. (Photo: European People's Party, Flickr, License)

A Cypriot anti-corruption body announced on Tuesday that a team of investigators would look into corruption allegations against former President Nicos Anastasiades outlined in a book called "Mafia State" by Makarios Drousiotis, a Cypriot investigative journalist, and author.

Among other claims in his 2022 book, Drousiotis asserted that Anastasiades flew in planes chartered by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev in exchange for harassing Rybolovlev’s wife Elena during their divorce. Rybolovleva was arrested in Cyprus in 2014 on trumped-up charges related to the alleged theft of a diamond ring that turned out to be a gift from her husband when they were still on good terms.

The writer also accused Anastasiades of appropriating the lion's share of a 500,000 euros donation to his party by a Greek ship owner. The money ultimately originated from the now-late Greek banker Andreas Vgenopoulos and was contributed shortly before the 2008 presidential election. Drousiotis also claimed that the former president was behind a spyware attack against him. Anastasiades denied all allegations.

The claims from the book will now be probed, the Independent Authority Against Corruption said in a statement on its website.

It also noted that it has appointed Australian national Gabrielle McIntyre, a legal expert in international criminal law, as the head of the investigation team. McIntyre accepted the offer earlier this month during her visit to the island. She will be assisted by three Cypriot lawyers: Orestis Nikitas, Charilaos M. Chrysanthou, and Andreas A. Efthymiou.

The four have already started working on the probe, and McIntyre is expected to return to the island in early March. The body stated that it will refrain from commenting to the press while the investigation is ongoing.

Haris Boyiadjis, who chairs the Independent Authority Against Corruption, said in an interview in December that the body would study the findings of the team before forwarding the case to the island’s attorney-general, an Anastasiades appointee, who has the last word in opening criminal proceedings.

In a written statement, Anastasiades, who left office in February last year, welcomed McIntyre’s appointment as well as “the launch of an investigation into the false and unfounded allegations and reproduced fiction that I was involved in corrupt practices.”

Four policemen have already sued Drousiotis and requested his book be withdrawn, with chapters mentioning them removed before distribution can resume.

Anastasiades, through his lawyers, also threatened legal action unless the book is withdrawn, emphasizing that the decision is not aimed at “intimidating” Drousiotis, who served as one of his advisors from March 2013 to October 2014.

“The only thing (Drousiotis) should be fearing is the truth,” he said.

Drousiotis is not the only one who has linked Anastasiades to corruption. A 2019 OCCRP investigation exposed how his law firm helped clients make controversial payments into the Troika Laundromat, a shady network of companies that served as a money laundering system, when Anastasiades was the leader of the opposition in Cyprus.

Two years later, another OCCRP investigation showed how he benefited from the free of charge use of a private jet owned by a Saudi billionaire. His cabinet granted, despite Cyprus’ ban of polygamy, the billionaire’s two wives Cypriot citizenship, as part of Cyprus’s controversial golden passport scheme that later caused international backlash, compelling the island’s government to cancel the program in 2020.

In an interview with OCCRP, Drousiotis, who in November briefed the members of the anti-corruption body about his findings, said that he expects the investigators to look into Anastasiades’ role in helping Rybolovlev force his former wife to agree to less favorable divorce terms, how the bulk of the Vgenopoulos donation found its way into Anastasiades’ pocket, and his role in the spyware attack.

“It’s the truth, what gives me strength and keeps me going,” Drousiotis said in response to Anastasiades’s public comments.