President Nicos Anastasiade on Friday announced new measures aiming to combat rising corruption in Cyprus saying these are based on the universal rules of law, transparency and accountability.
In his introduction, he also said the measures aim to strengthen the legislative, political, economic and social framework through actions such as prevention, legislation and supervision.
This is the President’s full speech late on Thursday, paving the way for Friday’s announcement:
At times when a leader is being judged or criticized, the first to be informed about what is being attributed to him are none other than you, the citizens, who have given me the mandate and to whom I am primarily accountable.
This is why I thought that before the new measures and the anti-corruption strategy were announced, I could not help but comment on the current situation in Cyprus.
And, of course, not in order to deny the existence of the phenomenon of corruption, a phenomenon that has plagued the Republic of Cyprus since its establishment, or all the countries, since ancient times.
What I want to highlight, though, is the orchestrated attempt of certain people, through the distortion of facts or rumours, either to create the perception that the President of the Republic is involved in acts of corruption or to distort the extent of the phenomenon, neither of which corresponds, in any way, to the real dimension of the problem.
The rules of propaganda are timeless, well known, and even more effective, especially in times when society is being tested.
A phrase attributed to Goebbels states: “The bigger the lie and the more it is repeated, the more believable it becomes.”
This phenomenon is escalating today, with the rapid and uncontrolled spread of rumours, fake news and mudslinging on social media.
Without mentioning other examples, I will restrict myself to referring to the most recent phenomenon, nowadays, of public opinion manipulation
We have all witnessed what followed the election of the new President of the United States, when, unfoundedly, the outgoing President claimed that the loss of the election was due to electoral fraud on the part of the Democrats, something he repeated every day, for weeks.
As a result, tens of millions of American citizens, led by a portion of the media and with targeted and repetitive messages on social media, despite the lack of documentation, adopted the claim as true, culminating in what happened at the Capitol, which global society witnessed.
Similar phenomena, unfortunately, are recorded in our country.
Prompted by the existing weaknesses and gaps of a program aimed at restarting the economy, at a time when the country was facing the risk of bankruptcy, when unemployment reached 16%, when there were social groceries, they attributed to the Government the responsibilities of corruption and criminal activities of the few, who abused the program.
And this, despite the fact that, with audio and video, society witnessed the people who exposed Cyprus internationally and who certainly were not members of the Government or the ruling party.
Deliberately and ignoring the above realities, corruption was the uniting ground chosen by those aiming either to serve party interests, or the decision that Anastasiades must be removed, or those who disagree with the President’s handling of the national problem, even if their own positions on the Cyprus issue are conflicting, or even some who, in good faith, have adopted what is being projected throughout the day.
What causes sadness is the magnification of a problem, the fact that it is being highlighted as the only one the country faces, ignoring the threats of Turkey that jeopardise the existence of Cypriot Hellenism, ignoring the pandemic and the problems that have accumulated as a result, which threaten to bring to their knees businesses, workers and vulnerable groups. They ignore everything.
The saddest part, however, is that ignoring the above conditions, some people came to the point, under the pretext of the so-called fight against corruption, of attempting to bring the state to a paralysis and collapse, refusing to vote the budget, without actually disagreeing with it in principle, activating and instrumentalizing to this end, unfortunately, an independent state official.
To what degree, I wonder, does party or personal political survival outweigh the interest of the whole?
What I want is to restore the citizens’ perception of the real image and the problems that were created during the implementation of the Investment Program.
A program which all political leadership had adopted since 2007 and, until its abolition, had never challenged.
At the same time, I do not ignore the existence of gaps and weaknesses in the program, especially in terms of monitoring and control mechanisms. Not only did we not ignore this fact, as a Government, but it led us to amend the program a total of six times over a period of seven years.
Nevertheless, despite all the strictures, the amendments, the abuse or criminal acts were not prevented by a portion of the perpetrators.
I readily acknowledge and assume the political responsibilities of the Government.
What I want to emphasize with the above is our political determination and will to immediately investigate all cases and take drastic measures to punish those who acted fraudulently, but also to restore the credibility of the country.
Let me remind you that after the first press reports, the Council of Ministers appointed a Committee, under Ms. Demetra Kalogerou, whose investigation led to the identification of weaknesses, possible criminal offenses or other responsibilities by specific persons, who are currently being investigated for their actions.
I also point out that immediately after the revelation of the events that took place in the house of a member of Parliament, the following decisions were taken:
- a) Immediate termination of the Investment Program,
- b) Appointment of an Independent Examination Committee for Deprivation of Citizenship,
- c) The Attorney General was requested to appoint an Investigative Committee, which, under the former President of the Supreme Court, Mr Myron Nicolatos, is already proceeding with transparency and public meetings, to a full investigation of the entire Investment Program.
Related to the above appointment was the intervention, in early September, by the European Commissioner for Justice, who said that he expected from the Republic of Cyprus, the appointment of an Investigative Committee with expanded and quasi-judicial powers.
My references are not incidental, because, as I have mentioned above, through the systematic distortion of facts, there is, on a daily basis, an attempt to create the impression that the Government denies or is, allegedly, afraid of control by the Auditor General.
The answer to those who have adopted lies as a means of political survival, is given by the Auditor General himself in his written texts.
I quote verbatim what is mentioned in the announcement issued on 4/11/20 after his meeting with the Attorney General:
“…provided that the Government is bound by the opinions of the Attorney General, the Auditor General recognizes and realizes that, as a matter of fact, despite his disagreement, at this stage no other files will be handed over to him and there is no question of appealing to Court”.
Meanwhile, in his report to the Chairwoman of the Financial and Budgetary Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives, dated 13/11/20, in support of the Budget of the Audit Service, he mentions that:
“…since the final position of the Government is (now) that we have jurisdiction to audit the naturalization program, thus there is no question of disputing jurisdiction and consequently, no such dispute exists for making a referral to the Supreme Court”.
Let me reiterate that these written references were made on 4 and 13 of November, namely, long before the Budget was voted against.
Meanwhile, in my letter to the President of DIKO, on 21 December 2020, after having cited the aforementioned statements by the Auditor General, I underlined that: “it is clear that the Government neither denied nor denies the handing over of the files. What it has done and is doing, is to give due respect to the opinions of the Attorney General, as the Auditor General himself acknowledges”.
I repeat this in order to make it absolutely clear: The Government has not raised and is not raising any objection with regard to the Auditor General receiving the naturalization files immediately after the completion of the work of the Committee of Inquiry, in order for him to carry out the audits in accordance with his constitutional responsibilities.
Following the above, I wonder how many more monstrous lies will be perpetrated by those who have endangered the collapse of the state or the physical or financial survival of thousands of our fellow citizens.
The worst part of the same methodology is also the attempt to question the morals, status and integrity of the four personalities who comprise the Committee of Inquiry appointed by the Attorney General.
This attempt is completely identical with the ‘instrumentalization’ of an independent official, with the aim of promoting him as the sole honorable and trustworthy person to carry out audits, while they are aware that the competences of the Auditor General, deriving from the Constitution, are limited, as the former Attorney General Mr. Costas Clerides explicitly mentions in his statement on 10 December.
I honestly wonder who can really challenge at this point the targeted campaign of distortion and manipulation of public opinion, which was and is intended to make the citizens believe that the President and his Government are supposedly afraid of an audit because they are allegedly corrupt.
And my reference to this is not random, since we have reached such a low point whereby a journalist who admits to having no evidence, claims publicly, based on rumors, that the President of the Republic allegedly transferred out of Cyprus hundreds of millions of profit money from the Investment Program and for this reason, while not contributing to the solution of the Cyprus problem, as he claims, we lost Ammochostos and Morfou. I honestly wonder how I could characterize this phenomenon.
What is equally unacceptable is the fact that instead of apologizing for the insult he uttered, since all the sources he had cited refuted him, he had the audacity to call on me to prove that his claims are not malicious lies and mudslinging.
At the same time, some others unashamedly claim that the Investment Program was adopted for the sake of the law firm that bears my name or that of my family members. When do they make such claim? While ignoring the benefits enjoyed by hundreds of businesses, thousands of employees, hundreds of lawyers, auditors and other related professionals of whom only a small minority abused and exploited the loopholes and weaknesses of the program.
While also ignoring the fact that some of those who utter similar insults, were among those who benefited from the program.
I will repeat that I do not relinquish any political responsibilities the Government bears vis-à-vis the supervision and audit of the program.
However, it should not be overlooked that the current critics were not only aware of the provisions of the exceptional naturalization programs, but were also fully informed as to both the respective decisions and the details of the investors who acquired the Cypriot citizenship since the adoption of the program in 2007.
What is equally important is that the institutional check of the correctness of the decisions of the executive power, constitutionally lies with the House of Representatives, while the fiscal control lies with the Audit Service.
If the parliamentary parties, which appear today as protagonists in the combat against corruption, exercised their constitutional powers and obligations over time, then:
Firstly, they would have adopted on time the legislation bills that have been pending before them for years, aimed at combatting corruption.
Secondly, they would have adopted GRECO’s recommendations concerning the legislature on issues of transparency and the fight against corruption.
Thirdly, they would not have supported a program that they now claim was created for corruption purposes, but instead they should have called for its abolition.
Fourthly, they would have exercised their institutional oversight role as they should, based on the information provided to them on a continuous basis.
The claim that the data was allegedly not sufficient for audit is refuted by the fact that the investigation of the international television network was based on documents bearing the seal of the House of Representatives.
Fifthly, the registration of ten issues for discussion at the House of Representatives, after the abolition of the program, is clearly due to the attempt to disorient public opinion, after the revelation that among the protagonists of the scandal were their own members.
I would like to be adamant and totally firm in reiterating that corruption is a real phenomenon.
If the Government did not recognize this, it would not have instituted a series of anti-corruption measures, as well as other important ones to be announced tomorrow in order to drastically address the phenomenon.
The determination of myself and the Government to combat corruption is also recorded by the large number of prosecutions of state officials and others, who were involved in corruption offenses.
A comparison of the number of those convicted during my administration to those convicted since the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus, would be enough to convince of what I am saying.
However, as I have already mentioned, the perception of the scale of corruption and the real dimensions of the phenomenon are different, as reflected in the reports of European and international supervisory bodies.
Firstly, the European Commission’s latest report on the rule of law, issued in October 2020, specifically states ‘… that for the first time 37 persons have been convicted in 26 cases”, noting that there is “an improvement in anti-corruption indicators” compared to the past.
Secondly, Moneyvall positively assessed the real progress our country has made in the combat against money laundering at all levels.
For example, in the technical part of the report, the Republic of Cyprus is graded with full compliance or high compliance in all forty controlled parameters.
Thirdly, GRECO, in the fourth round of the evaluation of Cyprus, notes that none of the recommendations pending until the adoption of the report concern the executive.
Fourthly, I should note that in April 2019 the US Undersecretary of the Treasury and one of the political heads of the US Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) visited Cyprus and said in a statement that “Cyprus has made enormous progress and improvements in the legal framework as well as in law enforcement”.
Fifthly, in August of the same year a delegation from the United States Congress, headed by the Chairman of the Financial Services Committee, visited our country, and stated that our country had made progress and presented an improved legal and regulatory framework against money laundering, stating in conclusion that: “… Cyprus is now in a position to meet the challenges in preventing money laundering.”
I ask for your understanding because I have been forced to talk extensively about the real dimensions of corruption as well as about the extent of deliberate distortion, mudslinging through the spread of rumours or due to party interests.
It is well known that in my long-standing political presence, even the harshest of my critics acknowledge that I have never renounced any bona fide or even perfidious criticism for any positions I have adopted or for any mistakes and omissions.
It is well-known to politician friends and opponents that any momentary bitterness has never been the reason not to have relations with those that I have disagreed or came into conflict with.
This is a rule which I believe you either accept or do not accept and thus do not participate in politics.
What I, as a person and not as a politician cannot accept is the regular and organized effort, through lies and rumours, to damage my ethos, my reputation and my dignity.
I have been, perhaps sharp in my references. However, for months I have tolerated and went through an unprecedented effort of defamation, with degrading insinuations, insults, and unethical allegations which exceed the limits of political decorum and ethics.
I have tolerated and endured this, because I know well that your demand of any President of the Republic is that he uses his time, not in debates about mutual accusations, but to effectively confront the serious problems of his country, at moments of crisis, with his courage and decisions.
It is for this reason that I overcome personal feelings of bitterness, which naturally arise. That is why I emphatically declare that I shall not refer to this chapter again until the Investigative Committee completes the work it was assigned.
The measures to be announced tomorrow consist of the greatest intervention ever made in the Republic of Cyprus so that we can create the strongest possible anti-corruption safety net.
I call upon all of you, with full respect to the different views, in an atmosphere of constructive political juxtaposition, to jointly address the issue of corruption as well as the other critical issues our people are facing.
I want to believe that what will prevail is patriotism, which I accredit to all political parties without exception.
This is what citizens expect from our political system and towards this direction I shall continue to work, so that once again I will respond to your expectations.