Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou tendered his resignation to President Nicos Anastasiades on Thursday as the search for the victims of a suspected serial killer continued for the 19th day.
Nicolaou and police chief Zacharias Chrysostomou have faced a chorus of calls to resign over police’s botched handling of women reported as missing and later found murdered.
Speaking to the media at the Presidential Palace Nicolaou said that he had resigned solely for “reasons of political integrity” and had no involvement in or responsibility for police investigations.
“I visited the President of the Republic today. This is the first time that we had the chance to meet after the day that the hideous crimes were uncovered,” Nicolaou said.
He explained that that the reasons that led him to tender his resignation were the serial killing case and the alleged police mishandling of the murdered women’s disappearances.
Nicolaou said that the consequences of the crime “do not only touch the police but the whole society. Police is a part of society, thus the search for responsibilities has to do will all of us. When the criticism wanes, this should trouble all of us.”
He said his resignation had been accepted. He would not say whether he believed the chief of police should also resign.
The Minister said that he considers the attempt to attribute responsibilities to the government and the Minister for the handling and investigation of the disappearances as “completely unfair”.
Those who do the criticism should have known that the Minister “is neither involved nor should he be involved” in police investigations, he said.
The outgoing minister also called for an inquiry into how the cases were handled.
He spoke of a need for the inquiry to be “independent, complete and objective.”
In an announcement shortly after Nicolaou’s resignation, the President said that he “accepted the resignation with sadness as I am losing one of my closest partners. I wish to highlight Mr. Nicolaou’s political integrity.”
The President added that the Minister “leaves great work behind him, especially in the sector of structural changes in the justice and prison system as well as in the police force.”
The Minister is tendering his resignation during the final phase of the completion of a radical structural reform in the justice system, the President said, “thus I asked him to remain in his position in order to bring the bill for the reforms to the cabinet in the next few days.”
A 35 year old Greek Cypriot army officer has reportedly admitted to killing five women and two children at least six of whom were reported missing by friends.
Four bodies have so far been recovered, all of adult women. Two were found in an abandoned mine shaft at Mitsero, one in a dry well at Orounta firing range and the fourth in an acid lake — Kokkin Limni at Mitsero.
It is there that authorities are not looking for another two bodies which the suspect said he put in suitcases and threw in the lake.
They have been relying of a robotic camera and divers in specialist gear who entered the toxic water on Sunday to recover a suitcase with the remains of one woman.
Divers have also combed a lake at Xyliatou where the suspect said he dumped the body of a six year old girl.
Authorities have said the search will continue and are awaiting the arrival of sonar equipment from the US tomorrow to bolster their efforts.
A team from Scotland Yard is in Cyprus to assist police with their investigations. The team has visited the four locations — two lakes, Mistero mine shaft and Orounta firing range — while a pathologist has participated in post-mortem examinations on the four bodies discovered so far.
Only one has definitively been identified — Marry Rose Tiburcio whose body was discovered on April 14 in the mine shaft —- and authorities are waiting for the results of DNA tests for the other three.
The woman found in the Orounta well is believed to be from Nepal. The second body is believed to belong to Arian Palanas Lozano from the Philippines.
The suspect had said he threw the body of Marry Rose’s daughter, Sierra at the lake in Xyliatou. He said that he threw the bodies of Livia Florentina Bunea, her eight year daughter Elena Natalia and that of Maricar Valdez Arquiola.