A civil suit at the Nicosia District Court has painted a picture of corruption, egotism and political nepotism against former Cyprus president Demetris Christofias.
The lawsuit was launched by former construction businessman Miltiades Neophytou – a once good friend and associate of Christofias – who has since been at loggerheads with Christofias and the two are now embroiled a fierce legal battle.
Wednesday’s court hearing saw Neophytou – who was also the chairman of popular football club Omonia between 2008 and 2012 – announce that he was seeking €22million in damages from Christofias – who was also present at the proceeding.
The majority of that amount is connected directly to Omonia – a football club with strong connections to left-wing party Akel which has Christofias as honourary president.
Nicosia contractor Neophytou had told the court that he first met Christofias in 2001 when he had won a contract to expand the parliament building.
“My case is separated into three parts – a) the construction works at the country home of Mr. Christofias in Makedonitissa b) expenses from the election campaign of Demetris Christofias in 2009 and c) money that I paid into Omonia.
With regards to the work on Christofias’ house, the two had agreed that Christofias would only pay the cost sale and nothing more. It was then that their friendship blossomed but that soon ended when, according to Neophytou, Christofias created huge debts to Neophytou’s company.
Apart from failing to pay the company, Neophytou was also asked by Christofias to locate a building close to the Akel office to house his election campaign. Again, claims Neophytou, Christofias had promised to pay him back along with other debts, something which he again said was never settled.
“He told that he would be running for Cyprus President and had asked me for all of these things,” he said. “He had promised me that he would settle the outstanding payments.”
Neophytou claimed that Christofias had planned to pay him back by selling a building in Chalepianes owned by a company working under Akel – which had been the opposition party ruled by Christofias.
The zoning permits would then upgraded – claimed Neophytou – in a bid to sell the building at a profit, something Neophytou added was a suggestion by former finance minister Charilaos Stavrakis.
“With the upgrade, Mr. Christofias estimated that the building could fetch as much as €50m or €60m from investors. In 2010, Mr. Christofias gave instructions to the next finance minister Neoclis Sylikiotis to amend the zoning of the area.”
The move never materialised.
“After the falling out between Mr. Christofias and me, Andros Kyprianou (the current Akel chairman) attempted to find ways to avoid the matter ending up in court. His efforts, unfortunately, failed.”
Football and politics
Neophytou also claimed that the pre-election campaign of Christofias had been hampered by the poor run of Omonia in the football league “due to the club’s strong ties with political party Akel”.
“Mr. Christofias was concerned by the poor form of Omonia and the implications it would have on the chairman at the time who was also his good friend, Doros Serafeim. Even though I had no connection with football, I was on the board of Omonia. I had been elected onto the board to look into ways of constructing a stadium for Omonia [Omonia rent their ground from the GSP along with APOEL].”
“In January 2008, Serfeim informed us that was he stepping down on advice from friends and the leadership of Akel. A few months later, I was courted by Kyprianou and Mr. Christofias to consider taking over the Omonia chairmanship. A few days later, it was leaked to the press that I would be the next chairman of Omonia.”
He added: “Mr. Christofias had told me that Omonia needed to be challenging for trophies and to be the best team during his Cyprus presidency. He said that Omonia’s success was fundamental to his re-election plans in 2013. That was why I needed to be club chairman and to always follow his instructions.”
“When I asked him about the club’s debts, he told me that it was his problem and that he would sort them out as well as those debts that he had accumulated at my company.”
Neophytou said that he had accepted the offer out of “his friendship” to Christofias because “I never thought that a good friend and the Cyprus President would try and scam me.”
Neophytou added that Christofias and Akel continued to have a hand in the operations and decision making of Omonia throughout his campaign.
“When I opened the books at Omonia, I saw that they were in really bad shape. They owed millions. When I told him, he said not to worry. Some money was later paid back in the first three years but then the funding stopped when it became apparent that he wouldn’t be re-elected as Cyprus President. When I stepped down on September 3, 2012, my company had been forced to pay €21.606.000 to the club.”
During questioning by the lawyers representing Christofias, Neophytou claimed that the former president was the ‘undisputed ruler’ who would decide everything and that he was “only speaking with him and not with Akel.”
He went on to say that Christofias had been repeatedly frustration by the success of Omonia’s rivals like Anorthosis and APOEL while the Omonia fans continued to vent their frustration towards him for their club’s failure to achieve success both in Cyprus and in European competitions.
Neophytou also pointed to the club’s lavish spending on expensive footballers during the time including Yiannis Okkas, Michalis Constantinou, George Efrem, Stathis Aloneftis and Lomana LuaLua – who were all earning over half-a-million a year in wages.
More debts later accumulated from a loan from the Russian Commercial Bank (RCB) that Omonia was forced to make in order to avoid sanctions from Europe’s governing body for football (UEFA) in 2011 – who had begun looking into the books of football clubs throughout Europe at the time.
“The €2m – which was acquired following a meeting between Stavros Aletras and the RCB CEO Kirill A. Zimarin – was never paid back and the bank has since sued.”