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Cyprus Mail: News Articles in English, 99-01-30

Cyprus Mail: News Articles in English Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The Cyprus Mail at <http://www.cynews.com/>


Saturday, January 30, 1999

CONTENTS

  • [01] Cyprus drops spying charges against Israelis
  • [02] Privatisation 'goes beyond EU requirements'
  • [03] Private sector shies away from CY shares
  • [04] Irate Michaelides lashes out Pourgourides
  • [05] Bases plan new Akamas exercise next month
  • [06] EU process provides ideal framework for solution
  • [07] Beauty queen busted
  • [08] Turks hold Greek Cypriot
  • [09] Government welcomes approval of marina law

  • [01] Cyprus drops spying charges against Israelis

    By Charlie Charalambous

    A DRAMATIC prosecution U-turn could see two Israeli suspects walk free after spying charges were unexpectedly dropped yesterday.

    Later, Attorney-general Alecos Markides held a press conference to defend the decision, denying that it had been taken under political pressure from Israel.

    "I believe under the circumstances that our side moved correctly and it was done in the public interest," Markides said.

    Markides said the prosecution felt the court was now more likely to impose a prison term on the two remaining charges, because the defence had failed to back its version of events with hard evidence.

    The Attorney-general added that another reason for watering down the charges had been to prevent military secrets being aired in court before the suspects and their Israeli lawyers.

    "They would have had access to classified information in the presence of foreign lawyers who were co-operating with the defence," Markides said yesterday from his office.

    Following behind-the-scenes plea bargaining, the prosecution yesterday withdrew more serious charges of spying against Cyprus and its military facilities, and of conspiracy to commit espionage.

    In return, the accused Israelis, Udi Hargov, 37, and Igal Damary, 49, pleaded guilty to lesser charges relating to possession of illegal listening devices (three scanners) and "approaching a prohibited area".

    Approaching a prohibited area was a new charge, which replaced the one of spying and passing on information to a third country.

    Under state security laws, approaching a prohibited area carries a six-year jail term, while spying carries a 10-year maximum prison term.

    "It's not as serious as the original charge, but still serious enough to carry a sentence of six years," said Markides, describing the compromise achieved as "a satisfactory result".

    Once Hargov and Damary - both smartly dressed in jacket and tie - had pleaded guilty to the revised charges yesterday, defence lawyer Andis Triantafyllides entered a plea for mitigation.

    During the 45-minute court hearing, Triantafyllides argued that Hargov and Damary were not collecting information against Cyprus, but were members of a crack anti-terrorist unit trying to prevent attacks against Israel.

    "They are members of an élite anti-terrorist squad who brought with them three scanners as part of an operation to obstruct terrorism against Israel and the murder of innocent civilians," Triantafyllides told the court.

    He explained that the Israelis' specific job was to act as electronic lookouts for a covert meeting of informants who had gathered intelligence against international terrorists.

    "The accused came to Cyprus for one reason only: to take part in a meeting between foreigners at Zygi, who had information on possible plans of international terrorist organisations against Israel."

    Triantafyllides said the scanners were used to track Cyprus police movements in case they uncovered the meeting.

    The Israeli government had repeatedly told the Cyprus authorities about the mission, and the Cypriot intelligence service (KYP) had not dismissed this version of events, the defence lawyer told the court.

    "The prosecution has no evidence to show my clients collected information or transmitted information against the Cyprus Republic."

    Prosecutor George Papaioannou said there was no evidence to back up the defence version of why the Israelis were in Cyprus.

    "That KYP do not deny this version of events may be the case, but as a representative of the Attorney-general's office I cannot accept that this be considered as a mitigating circumstance."

    When reading out the facts of the case, Papaioannou said the Israelis had been spotted near a secret military site during very sensitive army operations.

    "On the night of November 6, 1998 there was a serious military operation in the Zygi area which the National Guard classified as highly secret," said Papaioannou.

    "At Vassiliko port there was unloading of sophisticated military equipment. The details of these movements were only known by high ranking National Guard officers."

    Israel's Attorney-general Elyakim Rubenstein has visited Cyprus on at least two occasions (December 1998 and January 1999) since the arrest of Hargov and Damary at a holiday flat in Zygi on November 7.

    Markides yesterday denied that the two meetings he had with Rubenstein - at a Nicosia restaurant and in his office library - had been secret.

    But he did confirm that Rubenstein had mediated on behalf of the accused, claiming that they were tracking terrorists on the island.

    "The official Israeli position is that mistakes were made in not getting our permission first. The Israeli Attorney-general admitted this to me personally," said Markides.

    Hargov and Damary will remain in custody until they appear in court for sentencing on Monday.

    Saturday, January 30, 1999

    [02] Privatisation 'goes beyond EU requirements'

    By Athena Karsera

    THE STORM unleashed on Wednesday by the government's announcement of plans to privatise the Cyprus Telecommunications Authority (Cyta) yesterday continued unabated, with the opposition saying full privatisation went beyond minimum EU requirements on liberalisation.

    The Cabinet has argued that privatisation is essential if Cyprus is to harmonise with the EU's acquis communautaire, and an EU delegation last week singled out the telecommunications sector as needing swift reform.

    But Diko deputy Tassos Papadopoulos yesterday cast doubt on the government's interpretation of harmonisation criteria.

    "The EU does not ask any more of us than simply to end monopolies and liberalise specific areas. They don't, for example, say that Cyta has to be given to the private sector, they say that if someone else wants to start a telecommunications system, then he should be given the right."

    Papadopoulos said the House had not been properly consulted on the privatisation of Cyta. "Some deputies," he added, "may still not have realised that the legislation allowing its privatisation has yet to be passed."

    Papadopoulos on Thursday made a joint proposal with Akel deputy Kikis Kazamias, suggesting that the House, through its Finance Committee, be kept fully informed of any decisions on the sale or long-term leasing of government property, businesses and organisations.

    Governing Disy yesterday sought to calm public fears about privatisation: party leader Nicos Anastassiades said each specific privatisation would have to be examined in depth, and that neither monopolies nor oligopolies worked well, either in the government or private sectors.

    He went on to note that Cyta was one of the most successful of the semi- government organisations, and had even made outside investments.

    Anastassiades also had a word for Cyta staff, saying employees would not only be given the opportunity to contribute to the share capital, but would also play a role in the management of the privatised company.

    Communications and Works Minister Leontios Ierodiaconou for his part defended the government against charges that it had steamrolled the decision without proper consultation. He said Cyta unions and politicians had all been involved in the Cabinet decision to privatise Cyta, and that, though there had been objections, ministers nevertheless felt that the plan should go through.

    Addressing a news conference yesterday, Ierodiaconou said that long dialogues were pointless, especially since Cyta employees would not be affected by the change in the company's status.

    "The change in the regulatory framework is not going to affect the current rights of the employees. This is a principle which is acceptable to our side. The EU provides for it."

    He said this was an argument that the unions could not possibly deny, adding that consultations on such issues did not automatically need to drag on for a long time in order to be valid.

    In this type of situation, he said, decisions had to be taken "in one day and not one year," if the company was to remain competitive.

    Asked what would happen if the House turned down the privatisation bill, Ierodiaconou replied: "everyone involved would be held responsible."

    The minister went on to say that the EU demanded complete liberalisation by January 1, 2003 but that a beginning was expected well before then.

    He said that the main difference between the government and the unions was that the employees felt Cyta could become competitive after changes in the law regarding its operation, rather than after the full privatisation planned by the government.

    Saturday, January 30, 1999

    [03] Private sector shies away from CY shares

    By Jean Christou

    THE GOVERNMENT has failed to offload the ten per cent of Cyprus Airways (CY) shares that it is required to sell under Stock Exchange regulations, it announced yesterday.

    Yesterday was the deadline for offers on the five million shares made available by public offering two weeks ago, but investors have kept well away.

    Under CSE regulations, the shares must be sold by September 1999 to reduce the government's 80 per cent shareholding in the airline.

    The nominal value of the shares is 50 cents, but the government's offer was a minimum 45 cents per share.

    CY shares closed slightly down yesterday at 47 cents.

    An official announcement said there had been "limited interest and that "no one had to be turned back".

    Neither the government nor the company were willing to reveal how many of the shares had remained unsold in a fiasco that a Nicosia stockbroker yesterday described as a "disgrace".

    Neophytos Neophytou of United Stock Brokers told the Cyprus Mail that his firm dealt with a lot of institutional investors, none of which had expressed any interest in Cyprus Airways shares.

    Yesterday's government announcement blamed Thursday's four-hour strike action, announced weeks ago by the airline's biggest union Cynika.

    "It is obvious that the strike measures the union called affected the sale process," the government announcement said.

    "Different scenarios and choices are being discussed by the government side to try and comply with the CSE regulations by September 1999."

    But Neophytou said blame could not be pinned on the strike alone.

    "No serious investor would express much interest with what is going on there," he said. "Nobody wants to inherit the situation."

    The Nicosia stockbroker said it appeared that no restructuring had been carried out to ensure the airline's future and that the liberalisation of air transport would cause major problems to the national carrier.

    "You also have to consider the fact that Cyprus Airways is only profiting from two routes, Athens and London," he said. "Personally I feel it is not a good investment."

    Diko deputy Tassos Papadopoulos was even more blunt when he spoke earlier yesterday about privatisation in general.

    "The private sector is not fooled. What government is going to manage to sell shares in a loss-making company like Cyprus Airways? The private sector would have to be run by fools or people who don't know about business for them to buy into loss-making companies. Who will buy a company that has no prospects?"

    Communications Minister Leontios Ierodiaconou, also speaking on issues of privatisation and specifically on Cyprus Airways' current industrial disputes, said: "With these problems they can't attain full liberalisation, which will happen in the near future."

    He called on the unions to work with the company on how to address weaknesses so that the company could become more efficient and more competitive.

    Ierodiaconou said that four or five overseas companies had expressed an interest in the airline. "We are not ready to accept offers," he said. "This might happen in six months or more."

    CY spokesman Tassos Angelis did not wish to comment on the shares issue. And he said there had been no developments on prospects for solving the industrial dispute with Cynika.

    The union is due to meet on Monday to discuss further measures in its bid for pay rises.

    Saturday, January 30, 1999

    [04] Irate Michaelides lashes out Pourgourides

    INTERIOR Minister Dinos Michaelides yesterday replied angrily to parliamentary demands for more details on his income, assets and property.

    Speaking on national radio, Michaelides wondered if the House Watchdog Committee "would like to find out how much cutlery I have, how many pairs of underwear, how many socks and how many ties."

    Raising his voice, Michaelides said that the Committee's chairman, Christos Pourgourides, had had "enough time to prove what he accused me of." The minister said he could not understand why the incomes of the entire Michaelides family were relevant to the charges.

    "Next time you speak to him (Pourgourides), ask him what the incomes of Michaelides' children," have to do with the case," he said.

    A furious Michaelides even went on to mention the cost of his furniture, which he brought to Cyprus from his ambassadorial post in Cairo in 1978.

    Michaelides said Pourgourides should finally realise that "his duty and hand only reach up to a point," and that the time when "Pourgourides thought he could rule Cyprus" had passed.

    "Some time, some things must close," he said.

    He concluded by saying he had no appetite to discuss these issues with Pourgourides at this time but, "maybe somewhere else at some other time."

    Michaelides had been under put under the microscope by the Watchdog Committee after Pourgourides laid allegations against him of corruption and illegitimate wealth.

    The minister was later cleared of any wrong-doing by Cabinet-appointed investigators.

    Pourgourides continues to insist that Michaelides is guilty of the allegations.

    Saturday, January 30, 1999

    [05] Bases plan new Akamas exercise next month

    UNDAUNTED by growing local opposition, the British army is planning to carry out fresh military exercises in the Akamas early next month.

    The Green party, veterans of many anti British exercise protests, announced yesterday that they had "confirmed information" the British bases were to use the Akamas for war games between February 9 and 11.

    "That is the case, there's nothing secret about it," bases spokesman Rob Need told the Cyprus Mail yesterday. "We have already informed the government of our intention to use the area for exercises during this period."

    Exercises late last month were scaled down in the face of the threat of direct action from environmentalists - who claim the war games damage the pristine peninsula's delicate ecology.

    A reduced number of soldiers, just 30, were flown in and out of the area by helicopter to exercise under cover of darkness.

    Need said the February exercises would be "small" - involving about 30 to 40 soldiers - and would not involve live firing.

    The Green party made plain its resolve to continue actively opposing the exercises.

    The bases spokesman said dealing with possible protests was the responsibility of Cyprus police.

    The bases and the government are involved in negotiations to find an alternative, less environmentally sensitive, site for the exercises.

    Saturday, January 30, 1999

    [06] EU process provides ideal framework for solution

    CYPRUS' EU accession process provides the ideal framework for a settlement, even though a solution cannot be a prerequisite for membership, Greek deputy Foreign Minister George Papandreou said yesterday.

    Speaking after a morning meeting with President Glafcos Clerides, Papandreou said the accession course "clearly lays down the conditions to reach a solution of the Cyprus problem".

    He said the message to Turkey was clear: neither they nor any other power could halt Cyprus' accession procedure, and Cyprus would not stop it itself for any reason.

    Cyprus' chances of accession were still strong, Papandreou said, in spite of the problems which he admitted occurred from time to time.

    He added that the Turkish Cypriots could still be involved in the accession process, drawing attention to President Clerides' offer that they could elect their own representative to attend accession talks.

    "The choice is theirs. Either they join in this process at the negotiating table or they stay out of it. We hope that they take the first option," he said.

    The prospect of the island's EU accession, Papandreou went on, would have a knock-on effect in the region, introducing fundamental EU principles of democracy and freedom of movement. It was these principles that could form the basis for a Cyprus solution, he concluded.

    Papandreou later met with Foreign Minister Yiannakis Cassoulides, after which he warned that if Turkey could not accept Cyprus' EU accession, this would cause further problems with its own already rocky accession course.

    Saturday, January 30, 1999

    [07] Beauty queen busted

    A NICOSIA beauty queen was yesterday remanded in custody on suspicion of stealing clothes from her employer and selling them out the back door.

    Elina Nicolaou, 20, was elected runner-up Miss Young at last October's Miss Young and Miss Tourism contest.

    She was arrested by the CID on Thursday night at Larnaca Airport as she arrived back from Athens. She had been in the Greek capital as a competitor in the Face of the Year beauty contest.

    Nicolaou was brought to Nicosia for questioning. She stands accused of stealing clothes worth up to £20,000 from the clothing importer where she worked, selling them on and pocketing the cash.

    The brunette was remanded for eight days by Nicosia District Court.

    Saturday, January 30, 1999

    [08] Turks hold Greek Cypriot

    A GREEK CYPRIOT is being detained by Turkish forces after straying across the Green Line in Nicosia.

    Unficyp said yesterday that the Turkish side has confirmed to them the arrest of a Greek Cypriot man on Wednesday night.

    George Ioannou, 47, was arrested at around 11.45pm. He had apparently crossed into the occupied areas in Nicosia by mistake.

    UN spokesperson Sarah Russell said that Cyprus police had informed Unficyp of Ioannou's arrest, and that the Turkish side had confirmed it was holding the man.

    She said the UN had been given permission to visit Ioannou and give him a medical examination. The visit was due to take place later yesterday.

    Saturday, January 30, 1999

    [09] Government welcomes approval of marina law

    COMMERCE Minister Nicos Rolandis yesterday said he and President Glafcos Clerides were pleased at House passage of a bill to let Cyprus, which has only two marinas, build up to five more to compete with some 1,400 others ringing the Mediterranean.

    Construction on new marinas, and expansion of the two existing ones, could begin as early as June, Rolandis said, if the tendering process went smoothly.

    The House action late on Thursday surprised Rolandis, as he had not expected a vote on the measure until next week. He said President Clerides "was very gratified as well" at the bill's passage and was certain to sign it into law.

    The measure repealed a section of Cyprus law that had prohibited leasing to private individuals any part of the shoreline going into the sea for the purpose of building permanent facilities of any kind - such as marinas.

    In passing the bill, the House also withdrew its insistence on retaining the right to set the rates to be charged to boatowners using the marinas, even though the facilities are to be operated by private investors.

    Rolandis' plans call for 5,000 berths around the island: 1,200 in Paphos; 1, 200 in Limassol; 1,200 more in Larnaca, whose existing marina's capacity is only 300 boats; 600 berths in Ayia Napa; 300 berths in Protaras; and perhaps 200 in Polis. The St Rafael Hotel's 300-berth marina in Limassol would not expand.

    © Copyright Cyprus Mail 1999

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