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Cyprus Mail: News Articles in English, 99-02-27

Cyprus Mail: News Articles in English Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The Cyprus Mail at <http://www.cynews.com/>


Saturday, February 27, 1999

CONTENTS

  • [01] 'Bank manger blew 1.3 million of embezzled cash at the races'
  • [02] Three remanded over Ypsonas bank robbery
  • [03] Akel attacks government handling of health scheme
  • [04] A privileged caste: the priority health rights of public servants
  • [05] British close to deal on Kalo Chorio war games plan
  • [06] February rain fell in all the right places
  • [07] Turkey 'will use Ocalan to derail Cyprus talks'
  • [08] Markides orders probe into claims of tender irregularities at Koa

  • [01] 'Bank manger blew 1.3 million of embezzled cash at the races'

    By Charlie Charalambous

    A NICOSIA bank manager blew over 1.3 million of his clients' money at the races, a court heard yesterday.

    Popular Bank manager Charalambos Kokkinos, 35, was remanded for eight days by a Nicosia District court on suspicion of embezzling over a million pounds.

    The court heard that Kokkinos syphoned some 1.3 million from deposit accounts and transferred the money to a bogus account that fuelled his betting habit.

    Investigating officer Panayiotis Koundoureshis told the court that Kokkinos had admitted "to gambling the money on the horses and dog racing".

    The embezzlement, Koundoureshis said, was carried out at the bank, where only the suspect had access to accounts, over a period of two years between 1997 and 1999.

    By the suspect's own admission, police say he spent an average 12,500 a week of other people's money on four-legged losers.

    Dog racing is illegal in Cyprus, so police believe the bank manager made under-the-counter bets and followed the greyhounds by satellite from places like England.

    The 35-year-old high flyer has confessed in a police statement that he accessed the bank's computer system and redirected huge sums of cash for his personal use.

    Kokkinos, married with children, lives in the up-market Nicosia suburb of Anthoupolis, but it seems his money-grabbing activities didn't go on flash cars and ostentatious wealth but on the 3.45 at the race track.

    Police said Kokkinos tried to cover his tracks at the bank by showing the money was going out as loans, but there was no record of any repayments.

    An in-house audit on Thursday discovered discrepancies in customer accounts after a suspicious member of staff had raised the alarm. Kokkinos then allegedly confessed to the bank's chief auditor, Yiangos Kleoppas and was arrested on Thursday evening.

    Following the allegations, members of the Financial Crime Office were called in to investigate the extent of the fraud.

    The Popular Bank said yesterday it was still trying to ascertain the total extent of its loss.

    A spokesman for the bank said its customers would not lose a single cent from the scam, as the organisation was insured against theft.

    Popular Bank is the second largest banking institution on the island and has branches in Greece and the UK.

    Saturday, February 27, 1999

    [02] Three remanded over Ypsonas bank robbery

    By Charlie Charalambous

    THREE men suspected of taking part in Thursday's armed bank robbery in Ypsonas were remanded in custody yesterday by a Limassol district court.

    Panicos Chrysostomou, 19, and Pantelis Ioannou, 26, were both remanded for eight days; Herodotos Petasis, 34, was detained for five days.

    Police said they had strong evidence to link all three to the Bank of Cyprus robbery.

    A 42-year-old housewife, who was arrested with the others, was released at lunchtime yesterday due to lack of evidence.

    Petasis, from Kato Polemidia, was spotted by an eye-witness driving the Fiat getaway car soon after the robbery, police said.

    The white Fiat Mirafiori was found outside the Limassol home of Chrysostomou yesterday; he had also been seen the day before the attack, cruising in the car outside the bank.

    Police said they had evidence to suggest that Ioannou, a builder, had bought the new battery for the stolen motocross bike used during the robbery and later found abandoned.

    Police have yet to recover the stolen money and the weapons used in the raid.

    Two masked gunmen, wearing blue overalls and brandishing a shotgun and a pistol, raided the Bank of Cyprus branch in Ypsonas village outside Limassol. An official audit by the bank yesterday found they had stolen 19, 400, significantly more than the 12,000 originally reported.

    It was the second armed robbery to target the Bank of Cyprus in as many weeks, making it three raids in the last few months for the island's largest financial institution.

    A police manhunt had immediately been launched to catch the thieves, backed up by a helicopter and sniffer dogs. The arrests were made less than 24 hours after the crime.

    The two culprits who held up a Bank of Cyprus branch in Nicosia on February 12 have yet to be caught.

    In the Nicosia heist, two gunmen got away with 60,000 after claiming poverty to the frightened cashiers.

    Limassol police said they are investigating whether the two robberies might be connected.

    The Bank of Cyprus has tried to allay fears about security, but employees union Edyk yesterday strongly criticised banks for cutting corners and putting lives at risk.

    "For over six years we've been waiting for the introduction of cameras to prevent crime, but, because of the cost, the banks want to avoid paying," Edyk union boss Loizos Hadjicostis said yesterday.

    Deputy police chief Andreas Stefanou seemed to back the union's view:

    "The banks must take responsibility for basic security measures to protect the staff and public," said Stefanou.

    He added: "there just aren't the resources to safeguard all banks and I don't think the public want to pay for us to protect the inside of banks."

    Such criticism does not sit well with institutions likes the Bank of Cyprus, which recently announced 1998 operating profits of 65.3 million, an increase of 21 per cent on the previous year.

    The island's bank employees have long complained that security at most branches - such as private guards and close-circuit TV - is conspicuous by its absence.

    The Bank of Cyprus has nevertheless issued a statement saying it is ready to implement all necessary security measures to protect its staff and the general public.

    "The bank assures the public that it will take all necessary steps to address this worrying problem."

    Saturday, February 27, 1999

    [03] Akel attacks government handling of health scheme

    By Andrew Adamides

    OPPOSITION communist party Akel yesterday condemned the government's handling of the controversial health service scheme, echoing public servants' union Pasydy in saying it should not have been tabled before full consultations had been carried out.

    Speaking yesterday, Akel deputy and Health Committee member Kyriakos Tyrimos said that, although Akel was not against the health plan in principle, they did not approve of the way the government had gone about pushing it forward.

    He said Akel would do "everything we can" and work with the government for the plan's success, but that it would do this in a "responsible" way, as the policy would be an extension of the government's overall social policy and should express the right of everyone to hospital treatment.

    But he added that, "from the moment" there was a difference of opinion between the government and the civil servants, the Health Ministry should have entered negotiations and not just pushed ahead with tabling the bill before the House.

    Civil servants went on strike for two hours in protest at the plan on Thursday, just as the government sent draft legislation for its implementation to the House.

    Tyrimos said he would not be surprised if the Health Committee decided that the proposal required further work and returned it for further consultation.

    Public sector union Pasydy is concerned that contributions made to the scheme from its members' wages will exceed those they already pay to their union schemes and deprive them of the free government-provided healthcare they enjoy at present.

    Another member of the Health committee, governing Disy Deputy Andreas Parisinos, said yesterday that the bill would be carefully studied by the House, with opinions garnered from all sides.

    But he added that, if differences over the plan couldn't be resolved, the government would take the final decisions on the plan.

    "Of course, our goal will be to succeed in getting everyone's consent," he added.

    "It's a leap forward, and in order for it to be successful, it has to be embraced with love and genuine interest by all those who will eventually become involved in its implementation," Parisinos reasoned.

    If needed, he continued, the Health Committee would form subcommittees to deal with particular problems, should any arise. But he said he didn't think this would be necessary because he felt confident that all members of the committee would be able to work well together.

    Action taken by the committee would, he assured, be effective and swift.

    Health Minister Christos Solomis has said he expects the bill to be approved within a year to 18 months, and that a further five years will then be necessary to phase it in.

    He said yesterday that studies, negotiations and visits by experts in preparation for the National Health Service had been going on "for 15 years, the last eight intensively."

    He added that while he recognised that negotiations should continue, everyone except Pasydy seemed to be in favour of the plan. And he pointed out that government doctors were in favour of the plan. Pasydy claims the doctors would be among the hardest hit under the new proposals, as their working conditions would be seriously affected. But the doctors are no longer represented by Pasydy after an acrimonious split last year.

    Under the current proposals, an independent body will be set up to run the health scheme, to which both employers and employees will contribute. Its cost is estimated at around 200 million a year.

    Saturday, February 27, 1999

    [04] A privileged caste: the priority health rights of public servants

    By Anthony O. Miller

    UNLIKE private sector workers, public servants - most of whom oppose a government plan to give all Cypriots free health care - ironically already enjoy free, first-class health care in government hospitals at taxpayers' expense.

    The grant of such privilege began back in 1956, when the island's British colonial masters gave Cypriots working for the colony's government free medical care in their hospitals.

    That privilege stretched into today's 'acquired right' to free medical care, which is jealously guarded by Pasydy, the union of the island's public service workers, which is leading the assault on the proposed National Health Scheme (NHS).

    The free medical benefits include:

    - Visits to any government doctor, whether general practitioner or specialist of any stripe.

    - Free in-patient care in any state hospital in a private room, if available. If a private room is not available, public servants get priority for the first available one.

    - Private room care is automatic for top-level public servants, even to the extent that paying patients may be evicted from private rooms to accommodate the ranking civil servant.

    - There is a third-floor suite of private rooms at Nicosia general hospital, reserved exclusively for public servants.

    - Free medicines in government dispensaries, regardless of the costliness of the preparation.

    - Free surgical care in all government hospitals, regardless of speciality.

    - Overseas surgery is also allowed, free, provided a special committee approves. According to one top-ranking Health Ministry source, who declined to be identified, there has never been a case in which a public service employee was denied a reasonable request for overseas surgery - hypochondriacs excluded.

    Retired public servants are also entitled to the same privileges.

    Cypriots not in the public service, theoretically entitled to overseas medical care at state expense when the care is not available in Cyprus, are subjected to means tests and panel after panel of reviews. More often than not, non-public servants are rejected for overseas, state-paid surgery.

    Some 15,000 civil servants went on strike island-wide on Thursday for two hours, from 11.30am to 1.30pm, to show their opposition to the government's proposed National Health Scheme.

    The walkout closed schools, postal and other government offices, leaving skeleton staffs in public hospitals and the civil aviation department. Police did not walk out, but their association made clear it supported the strikers.

    Pasydy has brandished all manner of menace to turn public opinion against the proposed National Health Scheme, including alleging it would put private clinics into head-on competition with public hospitals.

    The Scheme envisages people being able to go to private or public-sector physicians - general practitioners or specialists - and hospitals as they choose.

    Pasydy has simultaneously taken the contradictory tack of claiming that, if the Scheme comes into being, public hospital physicians - 90 per cent of whom broke from Pasydy last year for failing adequately to represent their interests - would be hardest hit by the sea-change in medical care it would usher in.

    The non-Pasydy government doctors, however, enthusiastically support the proposed National Health Scheme. So do the island's private physicians, as represented by Dr Antonis Vassiliou, president of the Cyprus Medical Association.

    Pasydy and other unions claim that under a National Health Scheme, their members would have to pay a bit more in health insurance premiums than they pay now for union-sponsored health plans. These union plans allow members medical care with private doctors and clinics. This does not include the free care public servants get in state hospitals.

    The National Health Scheme proposes the state would pay half the Scheme's cost, while employees and employers would pay the rest. Employees would pay two per cent of their salaries, while employers would pay 2.55 per cent of their employees' salaries.

    The total cost of the Scheme is estimated at around 200 million per year. Health Minister Christos Solomis on Wednesday said it would take about 18 months for the Scheme to move through the House of Representatives, and five more years to phase it in after House passage.

    Saturday, February 27, 1999

    [05] British close to deal on Kalo Chorio war games plan

    By Anthony O. Miller

    BRITISH Sovereign Bases Area (SBA) forces yesterday inched closer to ending all use of the Akamas peninsula for SBA troop military exercises, British sources told the Cyprus Mail.

    A meeting yesterday morning between officials of the government, the British High Commission and the Bases "went well," High Commission Spokesman Piers Cazalet said.

    SBA Spokesman Captain Jon Brown echoed Cazalet, calling the talks "extremely useful" towards ending British forces' use of the environmentally fragile Akamas peninsula.

    Neither Cazalet nor Brown ventured to say when talks about the matter might end. Brown said more talks were planned for Monday and Friday of next week.

    Meanwhile, SBA authorities continued to honour the moratorium they began early this month on holding military exercises in the Akamas. No date has been set for any further SBA forces war-games on the island, Brown said.

    "The use of the Akamas is on hold for the moment," Brown said, adding the National Guard's offer of the use of its firing range at Kalo Chorio as a substitute was daily looking more inviting.

    Brown said SBA personnel had trekked throughout the Kalo Chorio site to see if, topographically and otherwise, it was suitable for SBA war-games, and had given the base passing marks.

    The chief concern appears to centre on questions of access, Brown and Cazalet indicated: how often per year SBA troops could use the Cypriot firing range; for what length of time each time; how much notice - if any - SBA authorities would have to give the National Guard before deploying troops there for exercises.

    <title>Four boat people end hunger strike, three drink shampoo in bid to draw attention to their plight</title>

    Saturday, February 27, 1999

    Four boat people end hunger strike, three drink shampoo in bid to draw attention to their plight

    By Anthony O. Miller

    FOUR of the 10 boat people on hunger-strike at the Pefkos Hotel have ended their fast, the rest are expected to soon, and three of 24 boat people living there were briefly hospitalised this week after drinking shampoo, Pefkos sources said yesterday.

    The four quit the fast - which they began on Tuesday to protest their continued detention there - after Sharon Bernard, Head of Liaison in Cyprus for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), talked with them this week, sources said.

    The three who drank shampoo did so because "they wanted do something to get the government to get our freedom," Nihad Hage, one of the Pefkos immigrants told the Cyprus Mail. "Maybe they will give us a date for our freedom," he added.

    Hage said he would try - as he promised Bernard - to get the remaining six hunger-strikers to end their fast. She, in turn, pledged to visit them on Monday.

    It was Hage who faxed a letter, signed by the 10 hunger-strikers, to the Ministries of Justice and Interior and to the news media last week, urging they be given their freedom, and protesting at living under police guard since last June.

    The three shampoo-drinkers were briefly taken to Limassol General Hospital, treated and released at about 9pm on Thursday night, Pefkos owner/manager Neophytos Efstathiou said.

    He said the incident was not any attempt at suicide, but rather a bid to call attention to their plight.

    The 24 have been under virtual house arrest at the Pefkos since last June. They were among 113 boat people rescued, sick and starving, from an overcrowded Syrian trawler off the Cyprus coast.

    The 24 have all had their applications for refugee status screened and rejected by UNHCR officers from Geneva, Bernard said. But as they are appealing the rejections, she said she was sending their appeals to Geneva for urgent review.

    UNHCR officials in Geneva phoned Bernard yesterday to inquire about the wellbeing of 'The Pefkos 24', following their receipt of newspaper accounts of the hunger strike begun last Tuesday by 10 of the 24 illegal immigrants living there.

    Most of the original 113 immigrants were denied refugee status and have since been deported, though it not clear exactly how many still remain scattered at various detention locations throughout the island.

    In December, 23 of the Pefkos residents - 10 Bangladeshis and 13 Kurds - were granted refugee status by the government on UNHCR recommendation.

    Saturday, February 27, 1999

    [06] February rain fell in all the right places

    RAINFALL in February may have been unimpressive, but it fell in the right places and fuelled good flow into the island's depleted reservoirs, official statistics show.

    Twelve wet days brought a total of 64.5 mm of precipitation (up till Wednesday), which represents only 79 per cent of the monthly average. But most of this precipitation missed coastal areas and came as rain and snow on the uplands, with the result that a good proportion of it found its way to behind dam walls.

    Latest measurements show a total of 22,392,000 cubic metres of water has entered reservoirs so far this month. This volume is the best monthly total since October and brings dams up to just over 20 per cent of capacity (54, 615,000 cubic metres).

    Kouris, with 16,113,000 cubic metres of water, and Asprokremnos, with 11, 380,000 cubic metres, are currently the best filled reservoirs.

    The situation is better than at the same time last year (when dams were only 12.6 per cent full) but water officials were keen to stress the drought emergency was not over yet.

    Nicosia Water Board said water cuts, in force since last Summer, would continue for the foreseeable future.

    "We let the water run on Green Monday as most people were away, but we have not had any instructions from above to stop cuts yet," a Water Board official said yesterday.

    Saturday, February 27, 1999

    [07] Turkey 'will use Ocalan to derail Cyprus talks'

    TURKEY will use the Ocalan affair to "excuse" its intransigence over the Cyprus problem, Government Spokesman Christos Stylianides warned yesterday.

    He was echoing earlier statements by President Glafcos Clerides, who said Turkey could try and use developments in the Ocalan case to create tension in Cyprus, but that they would be blocked by Europe, America and Nato.

    Turkey has accused Cyprus of harbouring PKK training camps, a charge the government vehemently denies. Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash for his part has said that Cyprus' alleged backing for the Kurdish rebels was proof that Greek and Turkish Cypriots could not live together in a single state.

    Replying to journalists' questions, Clerides said that, if Turkey tried this, it "would not succeed because Europe, the US and Nato would not swallow it."

    Speaking in Athens, Stylianides added that he hoped the international community would find ways to pressure Turkey into resuming dialogue on Cyprus.

    Stylianides also referred to the US and UN making "certain commitments" to undertaking efforts to break the deadlock on Cyprus after the Turkish elections in April.

    In his statements, Clerides said America had reaffirmed that it saw the Cyprus problem as a high-priority issue, and was very interested in a solution.

    Stylianides yesterday again stressed that there were no connections between the Cyprus government and the PKK led by Ocalan. However, he said Cyprus "always supports the protection of human rights and cultural identity" and like other countries, called for Ocalan to be given a fair trial in line with international regulations.

    Saturday, February 27, 1999

    [08] Markides orders probe into claims of tender irregularities at Koa

    STATE-APPOINTED criminal investigators are to probe alleged tender "fixing" at the Cyprus Sports Federation (Koa), which could have cost over 1 million of tax-payers' money.

    Attorney-general Alecos Markides has appointed four investigators after examining an initial report by the Auditor-general's office into the alleged corrupt practices at the island's supreme sports body.

    The initial probe found evidence suggesting that Koa officials were "tailoring" specifications for contracts to be put out to tender in order to ensure certain companies won through.

    The suspect tenders were put out in 1997 and concern the construction of a tennis court, the supply of lighting for the same court and the provision of security at sports' grounds.

    The Auditor-general's office found that Koa had paid hundreds of thousands of pounds over the going rate for the tennis court facilities and security services.

    Cheaper tenders for the same projects and services were apparently rejected.

    It is also alleged that a person involved in drawing up specifications for the contracts to be put out to tender had links to one of the companies that eventually won the contracts. This same person was allegedly involved in the selection procedure after tenders were submitted.

    The initial report estimated that over 1 million of tax-payers' money could have been misspent in this manner by Koa.

    The four criminal investigators appointed by Markides are a senior policeman, an officer of the Auditor-general's office, a lawyer and a state attorney.

    © Copyright Cyprus Mail 1999

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