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Letter from Athens: Corruption Stinks: Something’s Very Rotten On Cyprus

There’s so much dirty money on Cyprus it’s a wonder the island doesn’t sink, but everyone keeps pretending there isn’t but knows that there is and the game is to keep it coming while pretending that it isn’t.

Since he took office in 2013 on the back of promises – which he immediately broke – not to confiscate bank accounts over bad loans given to Greek businesses and big holdings in Greek bonds devalued 74 percent – President Nicos Anastasiades has been untouched by any of the smell of scandals.

He didn’t – as vowed – go after bank managers who put their institutions and the whole economy so much at risk with negligence a 10-billion euro ($10.37 billion) international bailout had to keep it afloat, so maybe that’s why it’s not sinking.

For decades, Cyprus has been the East Mediterranean’s go-to place for foreign criminals to hide wealth and launder money, so much so it’s a wonder there aren’t Drive-In windows at banks for them.

Transparency International ranks Cyprus 52nd out of 180 countries in the world for corruption, which isn’t as favorable as that seems given it’s ahead of places like Rwanda, Saudia Arabia, Cuba, China, Romania, South Africa, Belarus, Ethiopia, Kosovo, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Zambia, Mexico, Djibouti, Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Haiti, Afghanistan, North Korea, and South Sudan.

The biggest scandal was that of the residency program cash-for-passports scheme that handed out Cypriot European Union passports to anyone who had the money to pay for them – and their families – without checking for criminal activity.

Anastasiades’ family law firm helped facilitate some of those but he had recused himself from any connection, which means no one in his family talked to him about what they were doing of course. (Wink.)

The former president of the Parliament, Demetris Syllouris, former lawmaker Christakis Giovanis, Giovani Group director Antonis Antoniou, and lawyer Andreas Pittadjis were charged with conspiracy to defraud the state and untoward influence over public officials. Giovanis was a property developer with Giovanis Group.

All this kind of stuff starts at the top but Anastasiades has made sure it rolls downhill and very far away from him despite what Reuters reported was disgruntlement that his administration has tolerated corruption.

Now he’s backpedaling after a former aide, Makarios Drousiotis, claimed in a book that the President was running a corrupt government under the influence of Russian oligarchs.

Anastasiades, like those charged in the passport scheme, denied any wrongdoing so cue Sgt. Schultz saying, “I know nothing!”

Anastasiades said he asked a newly-established and essentially powerless anti-corruption panel that no real expert in the country wants to join (because it’s a small island and they like breathing) to investigate the assertions.

“It is simply not possible to make allegations about the President being involved in acts of corruption or even in a criminal act and to remain indifferent,” Anastasiades said, but he waited weeks before responding.

His 10-year run in office over two stained terms will end in February, 2023 with new elections, so he’s trying to beat it out of Dodge and asking a committee that can do nothing to look into the corruption claims which will go nowhere.

Anastasiades initially responded by saying an inquiry would shed light on “slanderous claims and lies” and that he reserved his right to take any person repeating the claims to court, the media reports said.

Bring it on. Nothing like a prolonged court case to rehash all the claims of corruption that are being denied and seeing your name in the paper again every day, especially if you’re out of office and an easy target.

Before the disgraced passport scheme fell apart, he defended it to the hilt and said other countries were just as bad (translation: corrupt) and announced the anti-corruption idea that was immediately castrated.

The Cyprus Mail noted that no one with any real authority wants to participate in what the alleged anti-corruption committee will do because there’s so much wrongdoing on the island it should be called the Opaque Authority.

The five-member body, the paper said, has the charge of investigating alleged corruption but – put this one page 1 – said it can’t find any because no one’s talking and it has no authority to make them do so. (Anastasiades smiles.)

“Doctors, lawyers, accountants, auditors, and other relevant professionals are reportedly declining to become part of the team, not wishing to go against those in power or their fellow colleagues,” the paper said.

Faced with the Code of Silence, it’s asking for help from the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) finding people willing to assist, the passport scheme and complaints of corruption in the prison system up first.

Penalties for corruption were supposed to be tougher, but no one apart from scapegoats and sacrificial lambs will be prosecuted so it doesn’t matter, and the wait for a promised special police investigations unit is just that.

The public was supposed to be given online access to anti-corruption investigations, but journalists and citizen journalists with blogs have more power than the alleged anti-corruption panel.

The authority had 15 written complaints before it – one of them concerning current and former Cabinet members of Anastasiades’ administration, said Philenews – but he was re-elected after letting banks wipe out the life savings of many, so Cypriots can blame themselves.

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