THE State scheduled an inquest into the death in Turkish Cypriot custody last year of former Irish Consul Stephanos Stephanou without informing the family, they said yesterday.
Stephanou’s daughter, Katerina Liasis, told the Sunday Mail yesterday that the family only found out by accident that the first hearing was due to take place on Friday October 3.
“I had been calling the police for months to try and get hold of his file. No one knew where it was. And finally a guy from CID said the file was at the Attorney’s General’s office because the inquest was happening,” Liasis said.
“That’s how we found out. They didn’t even tell us there was an inquest. We only found out by mistake. The inquest was on the Friday and I found out on the Tuesday before.”
Liasis said she went to the hearing and asked the judge for an extension so that the family could appoint a lawyer. The hearing has now been set for December 12.
Liasis said the family has no idea why they were not informed, but it seemed to be part of a long series of anomalies relating to Stephanou’s death on November 1 last year.
The first was not being informed by Greek Cypriot police for four days that missing Stephanou was in Turkish Cypriot custody since Thursday October 18.
“We found out on the following Monday but only when my Dad sent a text message to my brother,” said Liasis. “Our side knew and didn’t even bother inform us.
“When people are arrested in the north it’s on the news next day. And it’s not as though we don’t have contacts. Everyone knew and they did nothing, but they’ll say they tried.”
A year on, and the family are still in the dark about much of what happened to the well-known businessman.
“We feel so frustrated as a family. We don’t know what to do,” said Liasis. “I want someone to take responsibility. I want someone to come and say we’re sorry we killed your Dad.”
Stephanou, 64, died in a hospital in the north almost two weeks after he was arrested, allegedly for being involved in the smuggling of antiquities. He was never charged.
The only ‘evidence’ Turkish Cypriot police had to detain Stephanou were three photographs of antiquities on his mobile phone.
They said while in custody he had contracted pneumonia and died from septicaemia and heart failure.
Turkish Cypriot claims that Stephanou sustained the injuries during a resuscitation attempt were dismissed by state pathologist Eleni Antoniou and a private pathologist, Panos Stavrinos. The latter, who was acting for the family, carried out a post mortem in the north in the presence of a pathologist from Turkey and two doctors from the UN, notes there had been no sign of any resuscitation.
The medical file was also missing and Stavrinos said he was prevented by “the Turkish colleague” from taking eye fluid for toxicological investigation to see if any poisoning was present.
A later post mortem by Antoniou found Stephanou had sustained 11 fractured ribs, five on his left side and six on his right. Her report also said that when “she cut the stitches and opened the body it was stuffed with Turkish newspapers soaked with blood”, placed there after the earlier post mortem.
Antoniou took eye fluid for toxicological testing, but Liasis said the family has still not seen the results, which she said seemed to be par for the course from the moment Stephanou was arrested.
And it’s not just from the Turkish Cypriot side that the anomalies came.
All of the evidence seems to point to Stephanou being involved with the recovery of antiquities on behalf of the Church and state.
Liasis believes her father was involved in the past in helping recover stolen artefacts and had ultimately been targeted and lured to the north in a sting operation.
He was apparently following a lead after receiving an email with pictures of an alleged very early version of the Bible. On the day he crossed to the north he had coffee with a friend and told him his contact was the son of a Turkish general.
“I don’t know if that’s what they used to tempt him,” said Liasis. “He told his lawyer that the church had sent him.”
Both Stephanou and his ‘partner’ had been warned by CID not to cross again because they “would be killed”.
“He might have thought he would be protected from our side, if they were sending him. He must have felt safe,” said Liasis.
She said on the Saturday before his death when she visited him, her father had told her to call then AKEL leader Demetris Christofias because of his good relations with the Turkish Cypriot leader.
“That didn’t work. We were on the phone every day. We went through one of the AKEL MPs at the time, who is now a minister. In the beginning it was ‘yes, yes, we will help’, and then when Daddy was in a coma in the hospital I rang him again and said ‘please, please, he’s in a coma’. We need to at least get him medical help. And you know what he said to me? ‘We can’t do anything’. You have to go through the police.”
Police told her to write a letter to the Turkish Cypriot side asking for Stephanou’s release on medical grounds. “He died two hours later,” Liasis said.
“I want to warn all Greek Cypriots of the risk of being falsely arrested and beaten, and that no one will help if they are. The government won’t help and the police won’t help. But we as a family feel truly blessed and honoured to have had a father who lived and died for his faith and Country.”
By Jean Christou, Cyprus Mail, October 26, 2008