Former deputy attorney-general of Cyprus was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison
Former deputy attorney-general Rikkos Erotokritou was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison on Wednesday for his involvement in a conspiracy with the Andreas Neocleous law firm in 2013.
Panayiotis Neocleous, one of the law firm’s partners and son of founder Andreas Neocleous, was sentenced to a 2.5-year jail term, while Erotokritou’s old law-firm partner Andreas Kyprizoglou, who played a relatively minor role, was handed a suspended sentence of 1.5 year in prison.
The law firm was fined €70,000.
Upon hearing the sentence, Erotokritou stood and asked the judges to be allowed to say something, but was denied.
He then bowed and sarcastically said “thank you for your ruling”.
Then, turning to someone inside the courtroom – reportedly Neophytos Papamiltiadous, head of the association of Friends of the Police – Erotokritou shouted angrily “you get out of here, you didn’t listen to me, get out of here”.
Erotokritou and Panayiotis Neocleous were then led to the courts’ detention area, ahead of their transfer to the Central Prisons.
Later, the former AG put out a lengthy statement professing his innocence and announcing he will seek vindication in courts “in and out of Cyprus”.
“My imprisonment concluded, as planned, the chronicle of my foretold death,” he wrote.
“It aimed to present the incorruptible as corrupt, and the corrupt as incorruptible. But the public, irrespective of the court’s ruling, I am certain, knows the truth, as it knows which side fair and unfair lies on.”
His demise, he said, had been orchestrated since 2015, by the “well-known para-institutional network of the capital”, which wants to manipulate every authority and power.
“This para-institutional network has more than one component: politicians with low, vengeful motives, several lawyers, a specific bank with its legal counsel, and, fortunately a few, bought journalists who are fed by the network to cover up its existence,” Erotokritou said.
The masterminds behind this network, he added, are some individuals wearing “institutional suits”, who believe that their capacity will protect them forever.
In a statement shortly after sentencing was over, the Neocleous law firm described the trial a “travesty”, and announced plans to appeal.
“The imposition of punishments on Panayiotis Neocleous and our firm are the latest steps in a travesty of justice that continued for more than two years and culminated in a harsh and unjustified verdict which, unprecedentedly, took more than nine hours to deliver,” the law firm said.
“Like its initial verdict, the sentences the court imposed today are an affront to justice. But they are by no means the end of the matter. We shall seek justice by an appeal in the Supreme Court of Cyprus and, if necessary beyond. We shall not rest until this injustice is overturned and we are exonerated, however long it may take.”
Even though it is confident that “justice will ultimately prevail”, the law firm said that the stigma of this “glaring injustice and the violation of basic human rights and the fundamental concepts of law will remain as a permanent stain, not only on those who have perpetrated it and allowed it to happen, but also on the international image of Cyprus as a country which claims to be subject to the rule of law”.
The four were found guilty of conspiring to arrange for the favourable outcome in a civil lawsuit Erotokritou had filed against legacy Laiki bank in 2013, in which he sought to have about €0.5 million of loans written off against his seized deposits.
The Neocleous law firm, which represented Laiki at the time, did not appear in court for the hearing of Erotokritou’s lawsuit, resulting in a favourable ruling for the deputy AG.
In return, the court found, Erotokritou launched criminal prosecutions against Russian nationals who had been battling the law firm in court over control of Providencia, a trust-fund worth tens of millions of euros, against the explicit instructions of two attorney-generals, incumbent Costas Clerides and his predecessor Costas Clerides, whom the deputy deliberately kept in the dark.
On this point, the court’s verdict was that Erotokritou was found guilty for his actions, not because his opinion on the handling of the Providencia case was necessarily wrong.
The prosecutions in Cyprus would have given the Neocleous law firm the upper hand in the ongoing trials in Russia.
The defendants’ actions, the court said during sentencing, had been premeditated and coordinated.
Erotokritou and the law firm, it found, had been the principal players, as they were the ones with motive and stood to benefit from the collusion.
However, the court acknowledged that all four had a clean criminal record.
Erotokritou has been found guilty on six counts of bribery of a public official, corruption, conspiracy to subvert the course of justice, conspiracy to defraud, and abuse of power. He faced a sentence of up to seven years in jail.
Panayiotis Neocleous and the Andreas Neocleous law firm were found guilty on five counts of bribery of a public official, corruption, conspiracy to subvert the course of justice, and conspiracy to defraud. The lawyer, too, faces a seven-year jail term, while the law firm faces a fine.
Kyprizoglou was found guilty on two counts of conspiracy to subvert the course of justice and conspiracy to defraud.
In addition to their court-handed sentence, all four will face disciplinary measures from the Cyprus Bar association. Such measures range from a warning to disbarment.
The trial started in September 2015, days after the Supreme Court had unanimously decided to sack Erotokritou from the deputy AG post for conduct unbecoming.
It had been examining a request by the attorney-general, who had taken offence at Erotokritou’s allegations against him when it was revealed that a criminal probe ordered by Clerides had found evidence of a conspiracy.