Transcript for video 4 – Your place in Cypriot society

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Screenshot from Video 3
Screenshot from Video 4

This saga was just the latest example of the utter contempt the judiciary, the judges have for the everyday man in the street. The everyday honest hardworking Cypriot, the true magnets to the island the people we met on our holidays. The ordinary folk are suffering under corruption there is no justice for them and there is certainly no justice for the British.

Hello, I’m Conor O’Dwyer and this is Beyond Contempt giving insight and analysis of Cypriot justice. In this, my fourth video of a foundation series I’ll be talking about your place in Cypriot Society and show you how that affects your treatment within the justice system. Now if the Constitution of Cyprus was enforced this video would not be necessary, everyone’s fundamental rights and liberties would be secured. But that document is not enforced, it conceals the truth and I’ll dispel some myths here.

Well there is quite a relevant backdrop to this video, I’ll put in links down below, that show it’s been a tumultuous few months for the judiciary in Cyprus and I’m going to quickly address all this turmoil upfront as it dealt a severe blow to public confidence in the courts. The uproar started in December on Facebook when a lawyer Nicos Clerides posted criticisms of Supreme Court judges and their direct or indirect family ties to a top law firm and he was hinting at a conflict of interest and judicial bias. Now, this is blasphemy in Cyprus, as a lawyer, you can’t just come out and criticise the judiciary, they will come down hard on you for that.

Before I cover these recent allegations, let me first take you back to when the judiciary was last criticised in such a manner. It was in late 2016 when another outspoken lawyer Loukis Loucaides a former judge, a judge who once sat on the ECHR, stated at a conference that corruption had crept into the island’s justice system, negatively affecting court decisions. Loucaides said the judiciary was lacking knowledge, self-awareness and impartiality and that justice was going through a crisis and the lack of judge accountability and the lack of criticism has had an adverse effect. And for his criticism, the offended Supreme Court called for professional misconduct against this former judge requesting the Attorney General look into criminal proceedings just for what he said.

Well, this time it was a bit different when Nicos Clerides expressed his opinion It was a little more awkward because he is the brother of the Attorney General. Now Nicos Clerides not only stood by his words but in mid-January he doubled down and defended his views in a lengthy letter to the bar association which was widely published. Clerides’s concerns were focused on the impartiality of the Supreme Court judges presiding over court cases against the banks.

Now there are some significant cases against the banks going through the courts at the moment. The banks have caused a lot of harm to the country, their reckless behaviour contributed to the economic collapse of 2013, the bail-in that brought the country to its knees. This is the collapse that saw the bank accounts of private citizens raided by their government as it seized their deposits.

Well finally in a case last year, the Bank of Cyprus was fined, just 120 thousand euros, but its former CEO was jailed for market manipulation. He was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for giving misleading statements at the annual general meeting before the financial collapse. This prison sentence was welcome news to those who lost money many of whom have court cases pending especially the thousands of people duped into converting their ordinary deposits into bonds, they had everything wiped out.

So it felt like justice had been served, it was the first of many cases before the courts last year. But as is so often the case in Cyprus good news does not last long. In a decision that stunned even the Attorney General the former CEO of the Bank of Cyprus was acquitted on appeal. In September the Supreme Court overturned the guilty verdict and this was the spark that ignited the recent controversy.

You see the appeal was heard before three judges and in a two to one majority ruling, he was acquitted by Supreme Court Judge Tefkros Economou, and the President of the Supreme Court Myron Nicolatos. The implication in Clerides’s letter was that these two judges should not have presided over the case at all. He states that Tefkros Economou’s wife had up till recently held a senior position at the Bank of Cyprus. Oh dear. He also drew attention to the President of the Supreme Court Nicolatos who had the deciding vote on this three-judge panel. He focused on the fact, that only three months prior, his daughter and sister appeared to have benefited from out-of-court settlements with the Bank of Cyprus, relating to their lawsuits concerning high-yield bonds.

Now all this looked very suspicious and The Bank of Cyprus were quick to defend in the press saying they “reach out-of-court settlements in hundreds of lawsuits and there was nothing unusual about settlements with the relatives of the President of the Supreme Court.” But the Bondholders Association fired back. They represent thousands of people and they said there is a “double standard when it comes to banks dealing with connected individuals” “Our association has repeatedly asked for out-of-court settlements, but our calls have been rejected. This goes to show the extent of corruption in Cyprus,” So they took to the streets to protest, first outside the Bank of Cyprus headquarters and then outside the Supreme Court.

There was a month of headlines as the scandal snowballed with lawyers, Supreme Court judges and the Attorney General turning on each other. Clerides’s letter went far beyond this one case. In his 6-page letter, he listed many cases and challenged for a statistical survey to show that up to 98% of cases against the Bank of Cyprus are ruled in their favour. The reason for this? Well, he focused on the law firm that represents the banks, a prominent law firm with connections is the implication. He said on Facebook “Our courts are controlled by this law firm and there isn’t a Supreme Court judge who does not have a child working at that law office”. He listed those connections in his letter to the Bar association and said to the media that what “he has exposed has been whispered amongst lawyers throughout the country”

His brother, the Attorney General made little attempt to quell the uproar, of course, his office has spent millions investigating the banks and bringing all these cases to court. The Attorney General stated that “In two of the three recent criminal cases adjudged in favour of Bank of Cyprus, a fundamental ingredient of justice was not upheld, namely the absence of the appearance of bias”

And that is the crux of the matter. Judges should recuse themselves, step aside if they have family connections with one of the parties or one of the law firms before them. Justice must not only be done it must be seen to be done, both parties should feel they are stood before an impartial court.

These allegations were so severe that a code of conduct governing the recusal of judges was quickly drawn up and Greco, the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption watchdog made an unplanned visit. Greco had already stated that Cyprus was deficient in implementing their recommendations regarding transparency and they concluded their visit warning the judiciary that their recommendations were binding and they were not optional.

Lastly, in an attempt to draw a line under the issue the President of the Supreme Court gave a speech where he addressed the recent attacks acknowledging that public confidence needs to be recovered. He reassured the audience, reminding them of the constitution, and here it is folks, he said that the principles applied in court every day are that “no one is above the law and everyone is equal before the law”.

So there you have it, as portrayed by the statue of lady justice, blindfolded for impartiality. Justice is applied without regard to wealth, power, or any other status. Cases are put on the scales and the evidence weighed before the court and the sword of justice comes down upon the guilty in a swift a final manner. Well not in Cyprus, no one is fooled.

This saga was just the latest example of the utter contempt the judiciary, the judges have for the everyday man in the street. The everyday honest hardworking Cypriot, the true magnets to the island the people we met on our holidays. The ordinary folk are suffering under corruption there is no justice for them and there is certainly no justice for the British.

I’ve been following the courts for a while now, my case against a property developer is 13 years old so that sword on the statue is a fallacy, justice is not swift in Cyprus. Over those 13 years I’ve heard some horrendous stories, so let me share two Cyprus Mail articles with you that hit me hard, they ridicule this rhetoric from the judiciary and show you your true place in Cypriot society.

This is an article from the Cyprus Mail the headline reads “Limassol court was too lenient due to defendants social standing” The article reports on 3 cases of negligent driving, in all 3 cases the drivers were found guilty, but the sentences handed down were and I quote ‘suspiciously merciful’. Two of the cases are fatalities, in those cases, the drivers knocked down and killed female pedestrians. In the third case, the victim survived but she was left paralysed with brain damage and I’ll start with that case.

You see the driver was an ex-government minister and the victim was, of course, a foreigner, a 14-year-old girl, a Russian girl on holiday. The ex-minister ran a red light at a pedestrian crossing and paralysed this young girl. In her ruling, the judge deemed the ex-government minister ‘a special case’ and despite him pleading guilty the judge did not impose a sentence at all, no punishment, he walked free with no fine either, no penalty points on his licence, nothing, have a nice day sir.

Now there was no appeal for this case, for escaping all punishment.

In a perverse twist the prosecutors stated that because the judge failed to impose a sentence at all, no appeal for inadequate sentencing can be filed. There was no appeal, case closed, again have a nice day sir. In a later article, the mother of the young girl describes her condition as permanently brain damaged and confined to a wheelchair “I am disappointed by the court decision, she said “but I admit, it doesn’t surprise me because we learned that the defendant is an important person”

The second case reported in this same article resulted in the death of an 80-year-old Cypriot lady who was also killed on a pedestrian crossing. The driver, a well-connected local businessman, was fined just 3,000 Euros, had his licence revoked for a year and was given five penalty points. This sentencing was appealed but upheld by the Supreme Court in full. An elderly lady killed on a pedestrian crossing by a businessman 3,000 euros 5 penalty points and a years driving ban.

So far, we have a young girl and an old woman and it’s important to talk about them because these are members of society with excruciating vulnerability. If you want to know how justice is administered in a country, go to the unprotected, the poor, the young, the elderly, those who need the laws protection the most and listen to their testimony.

The third case is particularly grotesque, but it personifies modern justice in Cyprus for foreigners. In this case, a local lawyer is intoxicated while driving. He’s drink driving over three times the legal limit and using his mobile phone when he mounts the pavement and kills a lady. He was charged with manslaughter, driving while intoxicated, reckless driving, etc but by the time the case came to court, most of those charges were dropped by his peers. His fellow lawyers working for the prosecution dropped the drink driving, reckless driving and mobile phone usage as part of a plea bargain.

For the death of this lady the judge sentenced this drunk lawyer 3,000 euros, gives him six penalty points and just a 6-month driving ban, you see the dead lady was, of course, another foreigner, she was from the Philippines. The Judge said in her ruling, this accident was a momentary lapse and a custodial sentence would hinder the professional advancement of this lawyer. And you know what, the prosecution didn’t even appeal the sentencing. Timed out! That’s it, end of. Nice of his peers in the prosecution service wasn’t it.

Here’s a hypothetical, lets, reverse the victim and accused and put that case on the scales. Imagine this, Filipino housemaid, drink driving on her mobile phone, no insurance, mounts the pavement and kills Cypriot lawyer. What do you think would happen to her? Do you think she would have get off with just a 3,000 euro fine for killing a Cypriot lawyer?

As someone who has gone through the courts in Cyprus I can imagine how these families would have been tortured by the judiciary, flying back and forth, days cancelled, no interpreters, no one telling them what’s going on, they would have been exhausted and traumatised by the end and you can tell by no appeals filed, that they probably weren’t even informed of the decision. The poor things.

Trying to convict a lawyer of any wrongdoing in Cyprus is impossible, forget it. It’s a waste of your time, money and energy. In 2013 the then Attorney General admitted dropping the entire prosecution for his son’s drink driving offence. He used his position of power to stop the prosecution and the case didn’t even reach the courts. The Attorney General, the highest lawyer in the land, legal adviser of the Republic and responsible for prosecutions, drops his own sons drink driving prosecution. Cheers! He went on national TV and said, “I don’t feel shame or anything else for what I’ve done, I’ve done it for many children”. Oh have you? Oh, the child, his son, he was 32 years old and guess what of course a lawyer too. That Attorney General should have been dragged out of office for admitting what he did and fortunately for Cyprus, he retired soon after.

And for a while then it was looking promising, in 2014 a new Auditor General was relentless in a pursuit of corrupt officials. He said that corruption had taken root in Cyprus and it was more than he expected. In a crackdown on corruption, mayors, doctors, councillors, municipality workers, lawyers, MP’s, even the deputy attorney-general went to jail for corruption. But as is so often the case in Cyprus good news does not last long. Even when prominent figures are convicted, they don’t stay in jail. Most sent down for corruption got an early release, some even a presidential pardon.

The ruling class look after their own to the detriment of society, but it’s not as simple to say that Cyprus is a two-tier justice system, there are a few more layers than that. Judicial inequality goes far beyond the haves and the have nots, over the years I have corresponded with people from different countries and ethnic backgrounds with a shared experience that there is a separate and preferential treatment for Greek Cypriots within the entire justice system.

We all know that Cyprus is a divided Island. Now I’ve never been to the occupied north nor to Turkey and unfortunately, I don’t have time to go there in this video either. But if you are Turkish Cypriot or interested in the situations they encounter, then have a look at this article from the Cyprus Mail from earlier this month. I’ll link to it below, have a look at the comments too, normally an article gets around 20 comments, this one had over 400 in its first week. The constitution has methods in place to protect those in the Turkish Community, but this article and the comments shows the reality on the ground. It details the experience of Turkish Cypriots buying property and their treatment at the land registry.

And the reality on the ground for us is no better. Anti-British sentiment is prevalent too. My contract was deposited in the land registry, but despite that my property developer Christoforos Karayiannas & Son Ltd managed to sell my house to someone else at a higher price and keep my money. My right to property is supposed to be protected in the constitution but the same Attorney General who saw no crime in his son’s drink driving offence saw no crime in selling my house twice. Cheers! And I can imagine him saying ‘I don’t feel shame or anything else for what I’ve done, I’ve done it for many property developers’. This crook wouldn’t even conduct a proper investigation.

Before I started this project, I discussed the direction of my videos with some friends, prominent expats and journalists in Cyprus. And I also updated them on my upcoming appeal. And you know what they all said, you won’t win Conor no Brit ever has, you will never be awarded your damages in a Cypriot court. Now that is depressing and hard to believe knowing the merits of my case, but I’ve not known one Brit to get justice in any type of case. So since going live, in these videos, on my live streams and in comments online, I’ve been asking to simply show me one. Show me one Brit who has ever won a legal case, been awarded real damages including his legal fees back. We all seem to win our cases but loose outright, show me a true victory in court and a Cypriot opponent punished. Please share this video on social media and tag in your Cypriot lawyers as others have done. Challenge them to pull out one case from the CyLaw database of a British person getting true justice in Cyprus.

The President of the Supreme Court says “no one is above the law and everyone is equal before the law” well Mr Nicolatos just show me one. There are 70,000 British expats over there, millions of tourists have come and gone, just pull up a civil case for damages, in an assault, a car accident, medical malpractice, a property dispute anything, it should be easy for you surely.

Now you don’t have to wait till the verdict to realise your place in Cypriot society, they let you know your place along the way with obstacles. Mr Nicolatos gives lip service to this principle but no substance to what that requires. Right now just before my appeal, I’m being denied my legal aid again, It’s a developing story I’ll expand in my next live stream, but in brief, I was ‘granted’ cross-border legal aid in 2011 to get access to the court, legal fees, translations etc, it was celebrated in the press but it never materialised severely hampering my case, not a penny, it was another lie, a trick, just what the British get every day in court. They treat us like filth, but we must go through their system before we can take them to the ECHR.

We made a very big mistake buying property in Cyprus, it’s crippled us, ruined our lives, it was one bad decision 14 years ago that has proved fatal to the enjoyment of a peaceful life. It’s a never-ending nightmare, thuggish and brutally frustrating and obstacles like this legal aid issue are constantly put in our way to maintain the British 100% failure rate. It’s disgusting the lengths they go to, to protect their own. 100% the courts are an absolute joke.

Remember, the lawyer Nikos Clerides reckoned for them, 98% of cases go in the Banks favour. Well, at least they have a chance, just 2% but what we Brits wouldn’t give for those odds. Cypriots maybe fighting corruption, but we Brits are fighting corruption, bigotry and xenophobia, it’s institutionalised and systemic. The bondholders are on the ground in their thousands, well organised, speak the language, high profile cases, well covered in the press, if they are having it bad can you imagine the treatment we get in court?

Well you don’t have to imagine for too long, in my next video I’ll be going for it, I’m changing the order of this foundation series and switching videos five and six around. In my next video, I’ll be telling you what really happened to us in the lower court in Larnaca. If you remember back in November, I said I couldn’t go straight into telling you what happened in my main case, I needed to lay this foundation first. I said, this was not the true thumbnail to my video, the wording is different, and I can reveal now that the man in silhouette is Judge Tefkros Economou. Remember him, he was the one I just talked about, exposed in January for presiding over the case that acquitted the former CEO of the Bank of Cyprus. The judge whose wife, it’s claimed, had up till recently, held a senior position at the bank. Well, he was our judge too. We asked him to recuse himself from our case, to step aside, hand it over to a different judge and he refused. Now I’m going to tell you not only what happened in that courtroom, but I’ll also give my honest opinion of why it happened. You don’t want to miss the next one. Thanks for watching.

Links to everything I covered are below in the show notes, there’s an audio version available on Soundcloud and a transcript on my website. Please share this video with your friends, give it a thumbs up, subscribe and hit the notification bell. And don’t forget, you can follow me on Twitter and Facebook for regular updates and live streams.