World Report sits down with the Minister of Justice and Public Order, Ionas Nicolaou, to discuss the Ministry’s ongoing efforts to improve the legal framework in Cyprus, as well as tackling corruption and transnational crime.
Cyprus recovery continues at a faster than expected pace, with the President implementing a government approach to reforms to ensure a sustainable public sector. What is your perspective on the economic recovery here in Cyprus?
As you mentioned we are focused on not only modernizing the state, but also the public sector. Our aim was to make important, radical changes to reinforce the economy in a broad sense, and also the life of the citizens.
Each Ministry has set its own strategic goals and priorities for the recovery of the economy, our Ministry mainly focuses on improving security matters, which are an important consideration for investors who are interested in investing in Cyprus.
We are also modernizing the justice administration system, which constitutes a very crucial factor for investors who are interested in coming to invest here in Cyprus.
As you say, The Ministry of Justice and Public Order plays a central role in the legal security of investors. What have the key developments been in regards to contract enforcement?
Regarding enforcing contracts, we have set this legal framework as a priority. As you may already know, we have faced similar problems as the ones faced in Spain and Portugal, with the purchase of second homes by foreign buyers, particularly from Great Britain.
Some buyers were trapped and faced obstacles in the process of obtaining the titles of house ownership; we have taken some measures in order to facilitate these cases, to enable owners to preserve their purchase and the ownership under their name.
We have also prepared a draft for the House of Parliament for the discussion of a new bill regarding this. Regardless of the obstacles that may have existed and any problems that may have occurred, we are committed to facilitating the procedures of licensing approval, so they can obtain their titles more easily.
In terms of transnational issues such as human trafficking, and cyber crime, what resources has your Ministry been allocating to combat them?
Certainly in Cyprus there has been a lot of activity as far as international crime is concerned, and we have managed to triple the cases we are investigating right now. As a result of our close cooperation within the European Union, we are constantly exchanging information and provide training to our Police officers.
We have also made the public more sensitive to these matters, and we have gained their trust to increase the reporting of cases more often than in the past. We evaluate and analyze the information we receive and we have taken preventive measures on terrorism in several cases.
One of the most notable cases was that of the person arrested for keeping 8 tons of ammonium nitrate in a house, and he was an admitted member of Hezbollah. It was a case we were investigating for about 8 months and we acted directly upon his arrival in Cyprus.
All this is the outcome of the very significant role we play in cooperating very closely with other countries. This is an important step towards reinforcing the feeling of security and trust in attracting investors to our country.
With regards to cyber crime, Cyprus has performed important work towards the implementation of CERT (Computer Emergency Response Team) and is already examining the creation of a National Computer Emergency Response Team, in the framework of the national strategy for the security of cyberspace.
At the same time, we believe that the exchange of best practices and the performance of regular European exercises, as well as the technical support from ENISA (European Union Agency for Network and Information Security) will help in the reaction and prevention of cybercrime.
In addition, the relevant legal framework is going to be strengthened through the approval of the new NIS Directive at a European level.
The implementation of technical and operational measures, based on danger evaluation, enhances our security systems, especially the entirely interconnected systems, such as the in systems relating to air transport.
Moreover, the preventative measure of keeping backup records offers an additional coverage to our systems in the case of attack or failure on the system.
Last but not least, is the creation of awareness that comprises a basic tool in the overall effort to effectively protect our systems from cyber attacks. A structured approach is demanded, in order to create the necessary awareness at all levels, thus a culture of cyberspace security is essential.
At a national level, we give emphasis on the creation of such a culture at all levels; raising awareness in both users and all relevant involved bodies and organizations.
How is the Ministry of Justice and Public Order tackling corruption?
We are the only government ever in Cyprus that has declared a war against corruption. For many years, there has been no investigation of cases related to corruption. When we came to power, we decided that there was going to be a full examination of cases that have to do with corruption and all cases linked to the economic crisis.
We have created a special unit within the Police and have trained personnel, to ensure greater analysis in the investigation and evaluation of data we gather regarding these cases.
This is the first time in history that we are pursuing corruption matters with political figures and through these investigations, we believe that we are gaining back citizens' trust. We believe in the rule of law and we also empower the country for anyone who is interested in coming here, feeling safe to invest in this country.
How has your Ministry collaborated with the UK to strengthen the legal framework and judiciary system?
Our relations with the UK are excellent. We have a very close cooperation in terms of services and technical assistance for the reform of the public sector. Within the next two weeks we are going to have a final project in terms of restructuring our Ministry.
We have an in-depth cooperation with the two corresponding Ministries of the UK, the Justice Ministries. We also have very close coordination in terms of modernizing our jail prison system and police systems.
From your perspective, what should be the most important factor when choosing to invest in Cyprus and not elsewhere?
We have a very high level of security and excellent professional services, legal services and banking services for investors. We have adopted a business and investment friendly legislation and we are generally a very welcoming and hospitable country where any foreign investor is warmly accepted and largely respected.
It is very important to say that despite the huge financial problems and obstacles we had to deal with, we managed to respond with a great degree of resilience and get out to the markets again. We are gradually gaining the trust back internationally; investors can trust the state for its intention and willingness to continuously improve itself.
In my particular portfolio the changes we made in our Courts are very important. I noticed that many foreign investors are aware of this evolution that has been going on in the justice system and in the Courts.
For example such improvements are: the changes performed with the electronic justice system, the changes that have to do with speeding up the process of allocating justice, and the processes of allocating justice as far as international trade exchanges are concerned.
We are also preparing the relevant system that is going to deal with the processes of allocating justice, which is very similar to what exists now in the UK system. To sum up, we are a safe and stable place to invest with similar standards of expertise and legislation to that in the UK.