Cyprus to limit president's immunity from prosecution

NICOSIA Mon Apr 29, 2013 8:33am EDT

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades reveals an economic stimulus package after an economic bailout inflicted considerable losses on bank savers in Nicosia April 19, 2013. REUTERS/Andreas Manolis

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades reveals an economic stimulus package after an economic bailout inflicted considerable losses on bank savers in Nicosia April 19, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Andreas Manolis

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NICOSIA (Reuters) - Cyprus plans to limit presidential immunity from prosecution and increase government transparency, its president said on Monday, a move to win over a public jaded by graft and economic mismanagement that saddled it with brutal bailout terms.

Cypriots have been left in shock by a series of events which tipped the euro zone's third smallest economy into a chaotic bailout last month, with bank savings raided and the island's second-largest bank forced to shut down.

In power for little over two months, President Nicos Anastasiades unveiled significant changes he said would boost public confidence and modernize the function of the state on the eastern Mediterranean island.

They included changes to the constitution to broaden the offences under which a president could be prosecuted, limiting an incumbent's term in office to two consecutive terms, lifting immunity on lawmakers and forcing those who hold important state or political positions to submit income statements.

"The public justifiably criticizes politicians that they aren't honest with people and forget their promises as soon as they are elected. Today I want to contradict that rule," Anastasiades said in a public address.

Anastasiades has encouraged Supreme Court judges to give his own affairs special attention in an investigation now under way into almost a decade of financial profligacy and malfeasance that finally laid Cyprus low last month.

Public resentment of perceived high-level corruption and privilege rose further when bank transactions were leaked showing that a firm owned by relatives of Anastasiades was among hundreds that shifted millions out of one bank before the island's financial system was locked down on March 16.

Anastasiades has not commented on that case but his in-laws denied any wrongdoing in what they called normal business transactions.

A report by anti-graft watchdog Transparency International last week said 91 percent of Cypriot respondents believed graft was a big problem in the country. Some 79 percent believed it would get worse because of the financial crisis.

Anastasiades's center-right government, which won elections in February, commissioned a judicial inquiry to look into causes of the crisis, which was triggered in part by massive holdings of Greek sovereign debt by Cypriot banks.

Anastasiades said any recommendations by judicial commissions would be binding.

At present, Cyprus's constitution offers presidents immunity from prosecution. That protection is only removed for high treason or moral turpitude.

Attempts to strip the immunity of former president Demetris Christofias were blocked by the Supreme Court last year.

Families of 13 victims of a massive munitions explosion which destroyed Cyprus's largest power station in mid-2012 sought to have Christofias's immunity lifted, holding him morally responsible for the disaster.

A state-appointed board of inquiry had reached the same conclusions on Christofias's role.

(Reporting by Michele Kambas; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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