Did TV star Elena Skordelli murder the man who sacked her?
With its hit-men, sibling loyalty and business rivalry, the court case that opens in Cyprus tomorrow is worthy of any soap opera
Tuesday 23 February 2010
Sigma TV, the second-most-watched channel in Cyprus, is known for its lurid soap operas and equally lurid approach to the news. In a plot-line to fulfil the channel's wildest fictional, and non-fictional, dreams, a glamorous blonde television presenter is due to go on trial in Cyprus tomorrow accused of plotting the murder of the boss who sacked her. Unfortunately for Sigma, the victim was the channel's own boss, the media tycoon Andis Hadjicostis, 43.
The couple accused of ordering his shooting includes one of the most celebrated people in Cyprus, Sigma's former lifestyle and news presenter Elena Skordelli, 42. The second alleged mastermind is her brother, Tassos Krasopoulos, 37.
Personal hatred and revenge for Ms Skordelli's sacking from the TV channel last year is said by the prosecution to be just one of the reasons for their alleged crime. Investigators also believe that there was a commercial motive. The brother and sister already owned 20 per cent of the shares of Sigma's parent company, Dias. They are alleged to have tried to buy up a majority of the company in the days after Mr Hadjicostis was gunned down outside his home in Nicosia last month.
At first, the murder was thought to have been political. Through his media group, the dead man was one of the most influential opponents of the UN-sponsored talks to unite the Greek and Turkish parts of Cyprus, which have been divided since 1974. Bullet casings identified as coming from the Turkish-controlled north of the island were found near the scene of the crime.
Rumours are still swirling on the island of a hidden political dimension to the murder. Prosecutors are expected to dismiss these reports when the trial, originally due to open yesterday, starts in Nicosia tomorrow. The city's police chief, Michalis Papageorgiou, said in a television interview that he was convinced that the four people under arrest – and an alleged hit-man who fled the country – were solely responsible for the murder.
Political motives had been ruled out "beyond any reasonable doubt", he said. It remains unclear whether the "Turkish" bullets were planted to divert suspicion or were misidentified. The trial was delayed for two days yesterday so that one of the defendants – who had blown himself up with a bomb three weeks before the murder – could receive further hospital treatment.
Mr Hadjicostis was shot outside his house in the up-market Engomi district of Nicosia as he returned from work at 8.45pm on Monday 11 January. Closed-circuit TV footage, examined by police, shows two men fleeing the scene on a motorcycle. One of them was identified as Theophanis Hadjigeorgiou, 30.
Mr Hadjigeorgiou was arrested several days later. He told police that he and Andreas Gregoriou, 33, had been employed by Ms Skordelli and her brother to kill the media tycoon in exchange for money and future employment at the Sigma television station. Mr Hadjigeorgiou said that Mr Gregoriou had helped to plan the killing but was seriously injured in an apparently unconnected bomb explosion in December.
He named Gregoris Xenofontos, 29, as the replacement hit-man. Mr Xenofontos has since fled the country and is believed to be in Moldova. According to leaked copies of witness statements, Mr Hadjigeorgiou said that he met Ms Skordelli at her brother's house. He said that he and Mr Gregoriou, were offered €50,000 (£43,000) and jobs for life at Sigma. Ms Skordelli allegedly declared: "I want this man dead."
In another scene worthy of a daytime soap script, Ms Skordelli's sister was arrested after she turned up at a remand hearing held in the Nicosia hospital. She allegedly ran her finger across her throat while glaring at Mr Hadjigeorgiou and mimed to Mr Gregoriou to keep his mouth shut by sewing pretend stitches in her lips. She has been charged with threatening violence and attempting to influence witnesses.
Elena Skordelli began as daytime lifestyle presenter on the Sigma channel before working her way up – to the surprise of many colleagues – to prime-time jobs as a chat-show host and news presenter. Since she was fired last year, she has worked at another channel, Plus TV. Before her arrest, rumours circulated on Cypriot blogs and websites pointing to her as a possible culprit. She ordered her lawyer to sue anyone "responsible for all the slanderous and malicious publicity, which has been carried out at my expense". In a statement, she denied that she had any connections with the "detestable and hideous" murder of "dearest Andy". She said that she had been the victim of an "orgy of sycophantic and defamatory whisperings".
During remand hearings, Ms Skordelli, who is married with two sons, appeared wearing designer sunglasses and clutching a Louis Vuitton handbag. She looked haggard and bewildered. The prosecution told the court that "the two siblings wanted the elimination of Andis Hadjicostis because, despite paying a large amount of money and being big shareholders in the television station, she was ousted and they considered the victim culpable".
The state prosecutor, Savvas Matsa, told the press last week: "It was a revenge killing, motivated by her dismissal and interconnected with her desire to buy more shares in the company. If found guilty of murder there can be only one sentence: life imprisonment."
Television colleagues said there had been great surprise when Ms Skordelli was promoted to news jobs at Sigma. "She was so obviously out of her depth," said one journalist, "you just felt sorry for her."
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