Government accuses audit boss of overstepping his powers (Update 2)

The government on Wednesday accused the auditor-general of overstepping his powers after he criticised the findings of three-member panel, which probed certain cases relating to the island’s citizenship by investment programme, that has since been terminated.

“We express regret because for the umpteenth time, using the audit service, the auditor-general used highly contemptuous language about an investigating committee, created in line with the law, and the findings, in violation of the powers and authority provided by the constitution,” government spokesman Kyriacos Koushos said in a statement.

The spokesman suggested that Odysseas Michaelides and the service’s reaction showed the “strong tendency to politicise the institution the auditor-general serves, contrary to the principles of independence and neutrality he ought to maintain.”

Koushos added that Michaelides and his service assaulted the honesty, ability, and integrity of the panel, which was chaired by the head of the securities and exchange commission, Demetra Kalogirou, the former deputy treasurer, and a state attorney.

The audit service responded through its Twitter account, accusing the government spokesman of systematically scorning its reports for the past three months and “now attacking us because we commented on an ad-hoc committee’s report that disputes (within its rights) the audit service’s findings.”

Michaelides joined in to add that the government’s criticism was accompanied by threats against him, even speaking of “supposed criminal offences” and unfounded accusations of using his office for political purposes.

“And all these simply because we exercise our constitutionally defined powers.”

Earlier, Michaelides tweeted that comparing the findings to the audit service’s report on the use by President Nicos Anastasiades of a private plane belonging to a Saudi national who had been granted citizenship, the criteria violations were watered down and erased.

“Where checks carried out regarding the real ownership of properties? No comment on the naturalisation of relatives etc etc,” Michaelides said.

Former interior minister Socratos Hasikos, who had been in office when some of the cases were processed, chided Michaelides.

Hasikos, who was criticised in the report, took to Twitter, to respond to Michaelides after he said clear violations had been watered down or erased.

“I respect the findings, despite being judged and criticised,” Hasikos tweeted under Michaelides’ comment, accusing him of rubbishing and pouring contempt on the report.

“What are you, at the end of the day, a politician, a journalist, or a pope with infallibility?” Hasikos said. “Respect the institution you serve already, far from obsessions and stubbornness.”

The so-called Kalogirou report, named after the head of the securities and exchange commission who led the probe, documents a litany of shortcomings concerning background checks on people applying for the citizenship by investment programme – weak spots that enabled apparently highly suspicious – sometimes outright fraudulent – activities to go undetected.

From the interior ministry – which until recently did little more than rubberstamp applications filed by promoters – all the way to the banks, the process was severely flawed.

“It transpires the interior ministry essentially acted as a processor (expediter), something akin to a filing office, lacking substantive capability to check and assess the investors. For any checks that did take place, the ministry seems to have relied exclusively on third parties… and its role was limited to gathering the relevant documents (without conducting a substantive check on their content or authenticity),” the report said.