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Five jailed for fraudulent land sale to Cypriot pension fund

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Five people – including the former president of the Cyprus Telecommunications Authority’s (Cyta) board of directors – have been jailed by Larnaca’s Assize Court after it found they had participated in a land scam involving Cyta’s pension fund.

The case concerned a plot of land in Dromolaxia, a village near Larnaca International Airport, which was bought by one of the original defendants for €10m in 2010.

The purchaser was businessman Nicos Lillis, who at the time was chairman of Alki Football Club, a Cypriot First Division side, now defunct.

Lillis bought the land through his company, Wadnic Trading, which developed it into an office complex – the Aero Centre – before selling it the following year to the Cyta Pension Scheme.

However, the €22m purchase price was reportedly several times its market value, and the defendants were accused of receiving kickbacks to approve the investment.

Lillis later agreed to testify against the other defendants in return for immunity from prosecution.

The court found Stathis Kittis, former president of Cyta’s board of directors, guilty of corruption of a public official, forgery, circulation of forged documents and money laundering activities, and sentenced him to eight years in prison.

Charalambos Tsouris, a former member of the Electricity Authority board of directors and a member of the Cyta board at the time the fraud took place, was found guilty of fraud and abstraction of money under false pretences and jailed for three years.

Tsouris was a member of an ad hoc committee Cyta set up to assess whether the Dromolaxia development was a suitable investment for the pension fund.

He had drafted a report submitted to the pension fund’s management committee containing false data on the extra surface area added to the development, which unnecessarily raised the project’s cost.

The longest jail sentence, nine years, was handed down to Orestis Vasiliou, a director of Cyta’s digital television service Cytavision and, at the time of the deal, general secretary of EPOET-SEK, the Cyta employees’ trade union.

Vasiliou took €450,000 in bribes to stop him from inciting opposition to the investment from Cyta unions.

He was also found guilty of blackmail and money laundering activities.

Also jailed were a land registry official, and a shareholder in Polleson Holdings, a company used to pay some of the bribes.

The company itself was found guilty of money laundering and fined €300,000.

The court has approved a prosecution request for €750,000 – equal to the total kickbacks received – to be paid by the defendants to the state.

The defendants’ lawyers have reportedly said they will lodge appeals against the sentences.

The marathon trial started last March.

Judgment was delivered on 22 December with sentencing carried out on 5 January.

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