Fire at Nicosia stock market watchdog said to be arson

NICOSIA (AFP) – A fire gutted the premises of Cyprus’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in a central Nicosia office block early yesterday, in a suspected arson attack which caused no injuries, officials said. Fire brigade spokesman Stelios Stylianou said the fact that the fire broke out on two separate floors and did not spread «indicates it was a malicious act.» Police said the offices on the first and third floor had been «doused with inflammable liquid after unknown arsonists broke into the premises.» The cost of the damage has yet to be calculated. Justice Minister Doros Theodorou is convinced that the culprits were attempting to destroy evidence linked to the boom-bust cycle of the Cyprus Stock Exchange (CSE). «All indications show this was a criminal act,» Theodorou told reporters. «Someone wanted to hide something. Someone wanted to erase cases about them within the framework of the great stock market scandal of 1999-2000,» he added. SEC Chairman Marios Clerides said it was too early to speculate whether it was linked to investigations by the watchdog into suspect dealings on the stock market. But he admitted: «We seem to have stepped on someone’s toes… We carry out a lot of investigations, it’s difficult to say who.» Although equipment was damaged, Clerides said the main data archives seemed to have survived and could still be used. The stockbrokers’ association, meanwhile, condemned the suspected attack. Some high-profile Cypriot companies have come under the commission’s scrutiny and the authorities have been criticized for not doing enough to prevent the stock market crash of 1999-2000. An independent parliamentary probe has been ongoing for more than two years and has yet to come up with a definite conclusion. The government inquiry is expected to wind up by August. The bourse is still trading at less than 10 percent of its November 1999 value, when it reached an all-time peak of 849 points.