Nicosia, Cyprus, May 3 – Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades on Friday sacked the country’s police chief as pressure mounted over the authorities’ botched and delayed response to the killings of seven foreign women and girls.
A letter by the president to Zacharias Chrysostomou, seen by AFP, informed the police chief that his services would be considered “terminated” as of May 7.
Anastasiades said his decision was based on “the apparent negligence and dereliction of duty of the police in investigating reports of missing persons”.
He said this negligence led to the case “not being solved in a timely manner, while some of the horrific crimes that shocked Cyprus could have been prevented”.
The announcement came a day after Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou announced his resignation over the case, which went undetected for nearly three years, and after the president held a meeting with Chrysostomou.
A suspect identified in Cypriot media as 35-year-old Greek Cypriot army officer Nicos Metaxas has confessed to the seven murders, dubbed the Mediterranean holiday island’s first serial killings.
Cypriot authorities have been accused of failing to properly investigate the women’s initial disappearance due to neglect and racism.
The remains of two Filipinas, a woman believed to be Nepalese and a fourth, so far unidentified, woman have been found in and around two lakes outside Nicosia since tourists spotted the body of one of them on April 14.
Police were searching a toxic man-made lake southwest of Nicosia on Friday after they found a concrete block similar to one discovered over the weekend in a bag lifted from the lake with a body inside.
The body was thought to be that of 36-year-old Livia Florentina Bunea, although it has not been officially identified.
Detectives who flew in from Britain to help with the investigation are expected to leave the island on Friday.
Outrage over the handling of the case has prompted protests outside the presidential palace in the capital Nicosia, and Anastasiades has said the government will announce new measures to better protect foreign workers.
Outgoing justice minister Nicolaou said he was quitting for reasons of “principle and conscience”, while adding he had no personal involvement in the case that went undetected for nearly three years.
The chief of the main opposition communist party AKEL slammed Nicolaou for failing to quit sooner.
“Political accountability would exist if he resigned on the first or the second day that this story broke,” Andros Kyprianou said.
“Nineteen days later, following intense public outcry and pressure to stand down from his party… this is not called political sensitivity.”
On Friday, the president also met diplomats from non-EU countries, who handed him suggestions on how to best monitor foreign workers from third countries, India’s envoy to the island said.
Indian high commissioner Dr R.K. Raghavan told reporters he was assured that Nicosia will take every possible step to strengthen the confidence of foreign nationals in Cyprus, especially workers from India, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and the Philippines.
Cyprus government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou said the president “expressed his regret over the horrific crimes and apologised on behalf of the State and the Cypriot people to the representatives of these countries”.