Verdict in Nicolaou Inquest before Cypriot Court Confirms Murder

Wednesday 15 May 2024

The family of Nicolaou were represented in the third inquest by Leto Cariolou, Associate Member of Garden Court Chambers, and Athena Dima, practising in Athens.

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On 10 May 2024, Judge Varoshiotou of the District Court of Limassol in Cyprus issued a ground-breaking ruling in the third inquest concerning the death of the 26-year-old Thanasis Nicolaou, who returned from Australia to Cyprus to serve compulsory military service in 2005, and was found dead shortly after leaving his house to return to the military barracks to which he was assigned.  In her powerful verdict, Varoshiotou found that it was demonstrated that Nicolaou was murdered and died by strangulation and not suicide, as the Cypriot Prosecution Service sought to prove.  

This unprecedented case, which involved three inquests and multiple investigations by both the Cypriot Police and Army demonstrates deep shortcomings in the rule of law in Cyprus. The third inquest was lodged following the judgment delivered by the European Court of Human Rights in 2020, finding a violation of Article 2 of the ECHR, due to the ineffective investigation by the Cypriot authorities into the circumstances of death of Nicolaou. The ineffective police investigation was based on the findings of a forensic pathologist who concluded ten minutes after arriving at the scene, where Nicolaou’s body was found, that Nicolaou had committed suicide, excluding as such other possible causes of death which were never properly investigated.

Following the Strasbourg judgment, the family of Nicolaou requested the exhumation of his body for further forensic examinations. Despite the objection by the Prosecution Service to the family's application for an exhumation order, the order was issued and subsequent forensic examinations demonstrated that Nicolaou had been strangled. 

In the context of the third inquest, the Prosecution Service treated the proceedings as adversarial in which they sought to demonstrate that Nicolaou had committed suicide. Their conduct in court, including the manner in which witnesses called by the family were cross-examined, was heavily criticized in the verdict. The verdict confirmed the long-standing position of the Nicolaou family that Thanasis Nicolaou was murdered.  

Following the verdict, on 15 May 2024, the Ministerial Council of Cyprus appointed two independent investigators to conduct a fresh investigation which will examine both the circumstances of the murder as well as the conduct of the authorities involved. It is also expected that reform of the powers of the Attorney General of Cyprus under Article 113 of the Cypriot Constitution, will be debated before the Cypriot Parliament. The Attorney General of Cyprus is the head of the Cypriot Prosecution Service. 

The verdict received national press coverage in Cyprus, including Cyprus Mail, in-cyprusReporter, Phileleftheros, Politis and Kathimerini News.

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