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Murder route planned for weeks.


Stefanos Evripidou

THREE MEN were remanded in custody for eight days by a Nicosia court judge yesterday in connection with the murder of media mogul Andis Hadjicostis on Monday. Police were last night searching for a fourth suspect after a fourth arrest warrant was issued yesterday afternoon.

The three remanded suspects, aged 30, 33 and 37, all from Nicosia, have been named as Andreas Gregoriou, Theophanis Hadjigeorgiou and Costas Proestos.

The hearing was held at the Hippocration private clinic where one of the suspects, Gregoriou, has been undergoing inpatient treatment. According to police, they have witness testimony that shows the suspects were staking out the crime scene three weeks before the murder.

Speaking to reporters, the suspects' lawyer, Michalis Pikis, said his clients deny any involvement in the murder of the DIAS group managing director, Hadjicostis, who was shot dead outside his home near the US Embassy in Nicosia.

The three suspects face charges of conspiracy to commit murder, premeditated murder, illegal possession of a gun and carrying explosives without a permit.

During yesterday's hearing, head of Nicosia CID, Thomas Efthymiou presented the pieces of the puzzle which police have put together, relying on three key verbal testimonies and the evidence collected so far.

According to Efthymiou, the protective visor of a crash helmet was found in the area used as an escape route by the perpetrators, around 140m from the crime scene and 100m from the spot where the getaway motorbike was parked, waiting for the gunman.

The CCTV footage obtained shows two people, the gunman and the person riding the motorbike, escaping together. It also recorded the movements of a third person, also on a motorbike, who is believed to have assisted the two perpetrators by passing on information which allowed them to commit the murder and escape safely.

Efthymiou said police have verbal testimony saying that two of the suspects, Gregoriou and Hadjigeorgiou, were making suspicious movements between December 21 and 24, riding their motorbikes close to the US Embassy and taking the route between the DIAS building and the Embassy.

According to the CID head, the same witness said he had been informed by a friend of Gregoriou and Hadjigeorgiou that they had told him they were planning to murder a member of the top management at SIGMA television channel.

The witness said he passed on this information to a member of the Cyprus Intelligence Service (KYP), something which was confirmed by the KYP officer in question. The latter then passed on this information to Hadjicostis, advising him to take safety measures.

Following the murder, the same friend told the witness that Gregoriou and Hadjigeorgiou had confided in him that they had planned the murder, and that the shooter was Hadjigeorgiou.

The second verbal testimony puts Gregoriou and Hadjigeorgiou in the US Embassy area again before Christmas, this time meeting a third person, who they allegedly told that they were following someone and that they were going to do a job in the area which would bring them a lot of money. The second witness said Proestos was monitoring the same area with them.

Efthymiou told the court that initial forensic results identified Proestos' fingerprints on the helmet's visor found near the crime scene, leading police to the conclusion that he was the driver of the getaway motorbike.

Meanwhile, in the hospital room where Gregoriou is being treated for injuries sustained from a bomb explosion on December 25, three mobile phones were found, one of which did not contain a SIM card.

During a search of his residence, police found a motorbike without registration plates, which turned out to be registered in the suspect's name, and allegedly similar to the motorcycle used in the getaway.

A preliminary examination of the bike tyres showed they were the same type and shape of those used by the motorbike on the night of the murder, said Efthymiou. The dirt found on the tyres also matched that in the area where the perpetrators' motorbike was parked.

Three more mobiles, two So Easy packages, one black helmet, a Flobert rifle, nine cartridges and a computer connected to a closed circuit monitoring system were also taken from Gregoriou's house. The CID head said that a person found outside his residence had told police that he had been instructed by the owners of the residence to replace the DVR (digital video recorder) and put another tower in its place.

According to Efthymiou, in Hadjigeorgiou's residence, a helmet and DVR, connected to CCTV, were also found.

When arrested, Hadjigeorgiou reportedly said he knew why he was being arrested, saying he considered he was a suspect since he was seen between December 21 and 24 riding around the US Embassy area. He claims the reason was because his life was under threat by specific people, which he named, who he was trying to locate with his friends. Gregoriou made the same claims to police regarding his presence in the area. Hadjigeorgiou also claimed that strangers stole his helmet from his bike, but that he failed to report it to police. Hadjigeorgiou admitted that based on the news footage he saw, the protective visor found at the crime scene was the same as the one on his helmet. However, when questioned before his arrest, he did not mention anything about his helmet, said Efthymiou.

The CID chief also told the court that the woman who lives with Hadjigeorgiou made contradictory statements regarding his movements after the crime was committed, compared to what the suspect had said.

A search of Proestos' residence revealed 680 hunting cartridges, e1/410,000 in cash and a cheque worth e1/410,000 while e1/41,200 was found on his person. His wife told police they were poor and didn't know anything about the money found in the house. She said she doesn't work while her husband makes e1/41,200 a month. The suspect reportedly gave no explanation for the money found in his home.

Eight investigators are working on the case, with assistance from other services. Police have so far taken 64 statements and expect to take another 60. A fourth suspect is wanted in connection with the murder while police are investigating all avenues regarding possible motives of the perpetrators and mastermind behind the killing.

Police are still seeking the murder weapon, the second motorbike, the cartridges used and the helmet from which part of the visor is missing, said Efthymiou.

Justice Minister Loucas Louca yesterday praised the professionalism of the police, saying that based on the investigations so far, evidence gathered and testimonies, there is "optimism that the case will be solved and reach its end".

The high-profile murder last Monday stunned the entire country, with rumours spreading like wildfire, both in society and in the online community, as to who was responsible and why.

Louca yesterday reiterated that, based on the information to date, "What can be said at this moment is that the motives are not political". He did not rule out more arrests.

Copyright Cyprus Mail 2009

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Publication:Cyprus Mail (Cyprus)
Date:Jan 16, 2010
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