2022: A year of financial pain but little gained

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Cypriots strolled into 2022 hoping to see better days following two years of COVID restrictions; instead, they braved hiking inflation powered by the Ukraine war eating away at their purchasing power.

Also, proving that little has changed, the island was shaken by more scandals and what would appear as a cover-up of a murder case.

And 2022 started with the return to normality, with lockdowns lifted for the vaccinated in the first months of the year and the scrapping of the safe travel list in April.

Authorities had also decided to scrap all restrictions, including the Safe Pass required for entry at retail stores.

The mask mandate was lifted at the end of August, along with almost all remaining COVID restrictions.

Masks are only required in hospitals and pharmacies. Visiting a hospital also requires a 24-hour negative test.

Ukraine, hiking inflation

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 shocked the world with devastating consequences, mainly economic, not bypassing Cyprus.

Among them was the increase in Unleaded 95 octane fuel, reaching an all-time high of €1.82 in July.

As a result, diesel had broken the €2 barrier.

Cereals also recorded a serious increase in price after exports from Ukraine decreased, with a consequent rise in the prices of essential food items such as pasta and animal feed.

In July, inflation in Cyprus broke a decades-long record, as it increased by 10.9% year on year, driven by hikes in electricity and fuel, according to the island’s Statistical Services.

The previous highest inflation rate Cyprus witnessed was 10.8% in December 1981.

In July, electricity prices rose 61.7% and fuel 44.1%, according to CyStat data.

Soaring inflation reheated the discussion between social partners over the restoration of the Cost of Living Allowance to pre-2013 levels when it was slashed following the financial crisis.

Trade unions have stated they are ready to take industrial action over the matter, with Labour Minister Kyriacos Kousios to hold a meeting with all sides on January 12.

Cover up

In October, Attorney General George Savvides instructed police to reopen the case of the death of army conscript Thanasis Nicolaou, found under a Limassol bridge 17 years ago.

The case was reopened after Nicolaou’s mother relentlessly insisted her then 26-year-old son had not committed suicide, pointing instead to fellow army colleagues as having bullied him.

Investigators Antonis Alexopoulos and Savvas Matsas, tasked with the probe, concluded there was a ‘sickening’ cover-up to make it look like suicide.

Matsas said he was ‘sick to the stomach’ with inexcusable mistakes and omissions he discovered.

He argued that the murder could be solved with a proper investigation, stressing there is evidence, even if mistakes and omissions had weakened the case.

Their findings into the circumstances leading to the death of Nicolaou were handed to the Attorney-general in September, with Savvides committing to do anything in his power to get to the bottom of the case.

Matsas said that from his experience of 38 years in the Legal Service, he found police officers did not perform their duties adequately and honestly.

The probe conducted by Matsas and Alexopoulos was the third investigation into the case, commissioned by the Attorney General following forensic evidence.

Coroners in Athens in 2021 had examined the 26-year-old’s exhumed remains and concluded that Nicolaou had been strangled, as his hyoid bone, initially recorded as undamaged, was broken.

The soldier’s body was found under a bridge in Alassa, Limassol, in September 2005, about 12 kilometres from his home and barracks.

At the time, authorities were convinced that Nicolaou had committed suicide, but police had not questioned all his fellow army comrades, despite the victim filing a report of being bullied.

Prisongate

A year in Cyprus would not feel complete without a scandal.

In Prisongate, a senior police officer was suspended over an alleged blackmail attempt against central prisons governor Anna Aristotelous and her deputy Athena Demetriou with a lewd video.

Aristotelous accused drug squad chief Michalis Katsounotos of conspiring with a lifer to obtain videos that would compromise her and Demetriou’s careers.

Savvides ordered a probe, assigning the case to independent investigator Achilleas Emilianides.

He submitted findings suggesting that Katsounotos may have abused his authority and committed the offence of conspiracy.

However, Savvides argued there was no public interest to prosecute the officer, in a ruling that caused the outrage of Aristotelous, who resigned from her post as prisons governor.

Nicosia prisons were also shaken by allegations of a drug cartel being run from the complex while a brutal murder of a Turkish Cypriot convict took place.

Tansu Cidan was beaten to death by inmates, with eight fellow inmates and three guards placed under arrest concerning the case.

Assisted suicide

Meanwhile, the justice system got into hot water over the prosecution of a British pensioner who killed his terminally ill wife.

In a twist of events, the British man accused of killing his terminally ill wife is on trial for premeditated murder, despite earlier indications the prosecution had agreed to the lesser charge of manslaughter.

David Hunter, 75, had faced a murder charge in the 2021 death of his wife, Janice, although his defence lawyers urged the Attorney General to reduce the charges to manslaughter.

In December, it appeared that the two sides had agreed on the facts of the case, which would allow the accused to change his answer from non-admission to murder on the condition that he pleads guilty to manslaughter.

The prosecution had a change of heart, arguing that accepting the argument of assisted suicide could set a precedent for murder cases in the future.

His defence lawyers argued Hunter acted on his wife’s wishes, who it says was dying of painful terminal blood cancer.

Hunter tried to take his own life after killing his wife.

The trial resumes on January 9.

Greece ferry

The first season of the reintroduced sea link to Greece ended September 16, when the passenger ferry made its last trip to Piraeus as authorities pondered expanding the route to Israel.

Passenger ferry M/V Daleela completed its first season of trips from Limassol to Piraeus, after more than two decades, with authorities pleased with the traffic.

According to officials, 8,000 passengers with 2,000 vehicles made the trip from Cyprus to Greece last summer since it launched on June 19.

After obtaining special permission from the European Union, the government offered a €5.5 mln annual subsidy to secure interest by ship owners to operate the regular ferry link between Limassol and Piraeus.

The route was operated by a Cypriot-registered cruiser, the Daleela, which can carry up to 270 passengers and 100 cars. The voyage lasts about 30 hours.

A return ticket in a VIP cabin costs €160 – about the same as an economy airfare – a return second class cabin is €80, and a return berth for a car up to five metres €203.

The ferry is expected to resume in May 2023.

New Archbishop

The Cyprus Orthodox Church has a new Archbishop. The Holy Synod chose Paphos Bishop Georgios to fill in the shoes of Chrysostomos II, who passed away in November at 81 after a long battle with cancer.

The new Archbishop received 11 votes, followed by Limassol bishop Athanasios with four votes, while one bishop did not vote.

The December 24 appointment of the new Archbishop was not without controversy, as the popular vote was essentially ignored.

Bishop Athanasios of Limassol won the popular vote in the election for Archbishop with 35.68% of votes, followed by Paphos Georgios with 18.39%, and Tamasos Isaias with 18.10%.

More gas found

Cyprus’ hopes of new discoveries of natural gas speeding up the exploitation of untapped resources and securing supplies to Europe rekindled in December.

Italian giant Eni and France’s Total Energies have made another “significant gas discovery” in Block 6 offshore Cyprus.

It is the third such discovery from the consortium that has a lead role in Cyprus’ energy search.

According to preliminary estimates, quantities of natural gas are between 2-3 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) discovered in the Zeus-1 well of the Republic of Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone.

The latest discovery adds to three other major gas finds, including at the Aphrodite well in Block 12 of 4.5 trillion cubic feet, licensed to US firm Chevron, Britain’s Shell, and Israeli partners.

Analysts estimate that the new finding strengthens the prospects of the South-East Mediterranean region as a new source of natural gas supply to Europe, contributing to its energy supply security.