(Updates with AG comment in first paragraph and background in seventh paragraph)
By Stelios Orphanides
Attorney-general Costas Clerides said on Monday he decided to transfer senior attorney Eleni Loizidou from the Law Office’s department for extraditions of fugitives to another department and to order a disciplinary investigation.
Clerides also ordered a police investigation into possible offences into the probable theft and publication of Loizidou’s email communications, he said in a statement on the Press and Information Office’s website a day after Politis published the leaked emails exposing Lozidou’s ties with Russian officials. The theft and publication of communications data may constitute a criminal offence if the provisions of the law are not met, Clerides said.
In another statement, hours earlier, the AG said that while he would refrain from commenting or making his views public about the emails amid pending judicial procedures including requests for legal assistance, he would deal with them “as soon as possible”.
He also said that the issue had “several aspects” in addition to the “probable illegal theft” of email correspondence. These included probable influence in pending court cases concerning requests by the Russian Federation for legal assistance to which the reports make reference to.
In addition, there was an issue with likely influence in Russian authorities’ requests for legal assistance as their examination is still pending, and a probable issue with the conduct of the attorney involved with respect to the forwarding of information to the state requesting legal assistance which go beyond the strict limits of briefings about the course of the requests and related issues, Clerides said.
Lastly, he said, there was an issue with the use of a personal email account to forward official and confidential information.
Clerides was commenting after Politis on Sunday published leaked email correspondence between Loizidou and Russian officials concerning cases involving requests for the extradition of suspects to Russia, legal assistance, the status of judicial proceedings, and advice on how to proceed in certain cases in order to ensure desired outcomes.
In some of the leaked emails from Loizidou’s personal account, she appears to request favours from Russian officials, including support for a judge position at the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) of the Council of Europe, or even, though jokingly, a job if she was sacked for passing information to Russia.
On Monday, Politis followed up with a new report in which Loizidou appears to advise another Russian official on how to have Russian nationals living in Cyprus stripped of Cypriot citizenship and how to legally overturn the decision of Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou to temporarily freeze cooperation with Russia in a probe against Hermitage Capital founder Bill Browder last month.
“As I said at the meetings of the team, the minister has in my opinion no authority to stop the forwarding of evidence collected by the prosecuting authority, as the law on legal assistance prescribes,” she was cited as saying. “The minister has, as the authority in charge, the power to initially examine whether the preconditions are met in tasking the prosecuting authority, which includes investigators, with the collection of evidence”.
“In the requesting country, there must be a criminal case and the offences must not be political,” she appears to say according to Politis.
After the minister is satisfied that the above criteria are met, he has no authority, as per law which is in line with a relevant Council of Europe treaty, to withhold collected evidence, Loizidou appears to say. Unlike in extradition cases, the minister does not have the last say, even after a decision of the Supreme Court, she added.
Investor-turned-activist Browder resorted to a Cypriot court two months ago to prevent Cyprus from cooperating with Russia in an investigation against and his associate Ivan Cherkasov him with an emergency injunction. The Russian probe is in response to Browder’s campaign for justice for lawyer Sergei Magnitsky who died in a Russian prison eight years ago after exposing a $230m tax theft. The police officers Magnitsky implicated in the case arrested him, had him tortured and deprived of access to medical treatment.
The Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly asked member states almost four years ago to follow the US example and impose legislation punishing individuals responsible for Magnitsky’s death and ignore Russia’s requests for cooperation in its case against Browder which the council considers politically motivated. Interpol repeatedly ignores Russia’s arrest warrants against the investor.
Days before President Anastasiades’s visit to Moscow, the Russian foreign ministry and the Russian ambassador to Nicosia, Stanislav Osadchiy strongly criticised Cyprus for freezing cooperation in the investigation against Browder whom Russian President Vladimir Putin considers as a personal opponent.
In Monday’s report, Politis also reported on Loizidou’s alleged complaints against Anastasiades’s decision to remove her from the candidates list for the ECtHR judge position after she had been accused of inappropriate behaviour.
Politis added that Loizidou, in an email exchange with Vladimir Zimin, deputy head of the department for international cooperation at the Russian prosecutor general’s office, said the true reasons for her removal from the said list was a punishment for her alleged success in helping in the extradition of suspects to Russia which negatively affected the financial interests of third parties.
In another email, the senior attorney appears to criticise the chairman of the Supreme Court Myron Nicolatos for the delay in the extradition cases of two Russian nationals, according to the Cypriot daily.