Prisons chief sacked
By Menelaos Hadjicostis
Acting Central Prisons Director Michalis Hadjidemetriou was sacked and four wardens suspended yesterday over an embarrassing prison break prompting official pledges that “heads would roll”.
Justice Minister Sophocles Sophocleous said the four wardens and another three working on contract now face a disciplinary probe to determine how a convicted sex killer and another man awaiting trial on murder charges could escape from the Prisons’ maximum security wing.
In a brief statement, Sophocleous said Police Chief Superintendent Christakis Mavri takes over from Hadjidemetriou whose career is now left in tatters after being appointed to the job three years ago.
Hadjidemetriou had offered to resign if his superiors deemed it appropriate.
It was a dramatic turn of events following the first such serious security breach in 15 years that didn’t exactly go as planned for the two escapees as both were caught trying to flee to the occupied north.
Turkish Cypriot Panicos Netzadi, 32, sentenced to life for the 2006 murder of 20-year-old Slovak waitress Janka Kovacova is in the hands of Turkish Cypriot ‘police’ after reportedly being found hiding in the buffer zone near the Central Prisons complex.
Turkish Cypriot ‘police’ also nabbed Netzadi’s cohort, 28-year-old Georgian Greek murder suspect Odysseas Kalanides.
Kalanides was awaiting trial on murder charges in connection with the death of a Russian Kristina Polyntsova, 20 during a botched break-in in Nicosia last April.
The Georgian Greek was handed over to UNFICYP officials who, in turn, promptly delivered him to Cyprus police.
Kalanides remains under guard at Nicosia General Hospital for treatment of two broken heels he suffered in a 5m jump from the Prisons’ perimeter wall.
But Potamia resident Netzadi is unlikely to be handed back to Cyprus police because he is still wanted in the occupied north on army desertion charges.
Turkish Cypriot ‘interior minister’ Ozkan Murat said Netzadi is a citizen of the illegal regime and won’t be surrendered to Cypriot law enforcement authorities unless he asks so himself.
Netzadi appeared in a Turkish Cypriot ‘court’ also charged with entering a restricted military zone.
The entire debacle had left authorities red-faced and a fuming Justice Minister pledging a crackdown on those found responsible.
Government Spokesman Vassilis Palmas described the entire episode as “unacceptable”. He dismissed criticism from presidential hopeful Ioannis Kasoulides that the escape offered proof that laxness has seeped into state machinery.
Netzadi and Kalanides apparently used a weightlifting bar to smash their way through the wire mesh window of the Prisons’ gym on Saturday and climb over the perimeter wall, dropping virtually into the buffer zone.
Kalanides told police that the pair had been planning the escape for days and that he lost sight of Netzadi after both jumped from the wall.
The fact that the two inmates could so easily break out of a supposedly maximum-security wing without any warden noticing has both baffled and infuriated Sophocleous.
So perturbed was Sophocleous by the escape that he interrupted a trip to Athens and sped back to Cyprus to be briefed first-hand.
And things look gloomy for wardens who were supposed to be guarding the gym at the time of the escape.
Moreover, fingers are also being pointed at a warden atop a guard tower who failed to either hear the ruckus caused by the smashing glass or to see anything wrong.
And finally, there’s the warden posted to the security camera monitor room who apparently missed the whole escape.
Opposition Disy MP Ionas Nicolaou took Sophocleous to task, accusing him of resorting to rhetoric and grandiose pronouncements instead of dealing with the prison security lapse head-on.
What didn’t help matters any more were the damning words of former Prisons Director Panicos Kyriacou who spoke of a clique of corrupt wardens who are often in cahoots with inmates, even helping them smuggle drugs into the complex.
He went so far as to say that authorities should probe the possibility whether Kalanides and Netzadi had inside help in their escape.
“Unfortunately, there are about five or six people inside the Prisons who in my opinion are very dangerous and are under someone’s protection,” Kyriacou told state television.
That prompted a strong reaction from the wardens’ union that expressed “repugnance” and “shock” at the ex-director’s accusations.
“Mr Kyriacou, with his clearly defamatory statements to the mass media denigrates the staff and management of the Prisons with completely unfounded allegations,” the union said in a letter.
The union said the “upsetting remarks” warrant the appointment of a criminal investigator to determine whether Kyriacou committed any wrong-doing.