Supreme Court Hears Arguments for Lifting President's Immunity
The Supreme Court has heard arguments for and against lifting President Demetris Christofias' immunity against prosecution, after relatives of the 13 men who died in the July 11th explosion filed a motion in the country's highest court.
The Court's 13 judges reserved their decision pending interpretation of four points, including whether or not manslaughter is an offense that can be defined as 'moral turpitude'.
If the judges decide this is the case, then the Attorny-general could waive the president's immunity, leaving the way clear for civil lawsuits to be lodged against him before the end of his term.
The proceedings were started after the deaths of 13 men in an explosion at Evangelos Florakis naval base on July 11th, 2011. An investigation into the explosion carried out by lawyer Polys Polyviou found that the president and two members of his cabinet were directly and personally responsible for delays in deciding what to do with the 98 containers which exploded at the naval base. The containers were confiscated in January 2009 while they were en route to Syria from Iran in contravention of UN sanctions against Iran.
During Polyviou's investigation, damning evidence came to light that Christofias promised Syrian president Bashar al-Assad that the confiscated weapons would not leave Cyprus, and would possibly be returned to him, and that this policy resulted in fatal delays in removing or destroying the explosives.
In the aftermath of the investigation, Christofias denied responsibility and refused to resign voluntarily, which would have been the only way for him to leave office before the end of his term. A president can only be prosecuted in special cases including moral turpitude or betrayal of the country.
The families of several of the victims of the blast then filed civil lawsuits against the president, as well as a motion to waive his immunity from prosecution to the Supreme Court.
The president was never formally investigated or questioned by police because of his immunity, but the relatives' lawyer Christos Triantafyllides said that he will be called as a witness when he is no longer president.
Initially, the attorney-general argued that the Supreme Court should proceed to the interpretation of the relevant articles of the constitution relating to the office of President and the reasons for waiving immunity. However, the Attorney-general then changed his tune and argued that the Supreme Court should reject the claims of relatives of the victims and not to proceed to interpretation.
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