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EARLIER this month Limassol district court acquitted the Ermes Department Stores of violating the anachronistic, pre-EU membership sales law. The company had been charged with advertising discount prices outside the shop sales period designated by the commerce and industry ministry, as if we operated under a command economy.

It was the second time in a few months Ermes had won such a court case. In July another court acquitted the company in a case involving similar charges. Both courts accepted the company’s position which argued that the sales law was in violation of an EU directive on unfair commercial practices.

Logically, this law should have been scrapped a long time ago because it blatantly restricts competition at the expense of the consumer whose rights everyone, supposedly, wants to protect. But if neither common sense nor the rights of the consumer could have persuaded the authorities to scrap it, they should have at least complied with the EU directive.

But it seems not even the court decisions could persuade the authorities to back down and the ministry was advised by the Attorney General to press ahead with the hundreds of similar cases pending. This is because the Attorney General plans to appeal against the district court decisions and would carry on prosecuting until there was a ruling by the Supreme Court.

So now we have to wait for the Supreme Court to decide whether an EU directive overrides local law or not. In the meantime, the commerce ministry will waste the time of the law-courts with the hundreds of cases relating to violations of the irrational sales law, knowing full well that they will be lost. The absurdity must be upheld until the bitter end, it seems.

The Attorney General could have told the ministry to suspend all prosecutions until the Supreme Court issued a ruling. But the charade will continue, we suspect, for political reasons. The small shopkeepers’ association POVEK, which represents a large number of voters and is very close to AKEL, has been a champion of the sales law – it had pressured politicians to draft and approve it – which may explain why the authorities are so reluctant to scrap it.

No party would dare speak out against this absurdity because nobody wants to lose the POVEK vote. So the state will carry on wasting the law-courts’ time, prosecuting shops for advertising discounts and losing the cases, for no reason other than to keep a ridiculous organisation, opposed to competition, happy.
|||Anti-competitive sales law allowed to hold sway in a bid to keep votes
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