On Friday, July 19, three of us journalists stood waiting outside room 723 at the Pambos Napa Rocks Hotel in Ayia Napa, Cyprus. It is suspected that two days before, a gang rape of a young British woman took place in that room. Twelve Israeli boys and young men were arrested and their detention extended. We, in a foreign country, were trying to maneuver between silent Cypriot lawyers and talkative Israeli ones, hoping to extract whatever information we could.
After some time, an Israeli man appeared, someone who had checked into room 723 the previous night. He opened the door for me and another Israeli journalist. Then some young Israeli women showed up, saying that the hotel had given them this room but it was filthy and the hotel was refusing to give them a new one. Among other things they found was a used condom under one of the beds, as well as an empty bottle of an expensive vodka with a duty-free label from Israel that these girls had not bought.
“I can’t understand how they can’t even let the scene of the incident cool off – it hasn’t even been 24 hours, and we’re supposed to sleep here along with all the evidence and the marks on the wall. It’s shocking,” said one of these women. And we? We took pictures and filed stories. That’s what journalists do.
Then last week Marius Christo, the head of the Cypriot investigation team, gave his testimony at the trial of the British woman. When asked about alleged flaws in the way the incident was investigated, he replied (according to a report by Yoav Etiel, who was present in court for the Walla news website) that Israeli journalists had staged the scene in the room in which the condom had been found, and that investigators had collected everything else before that.
Thus, with a straight face, the head of the Cypriot investigative team accused us journalists of fabricating evidence. This was stated in a courtroom. The question then arises: If the head of the investigative team in this complex story can lie about something like this, what about all the other testimony he’s given? What does this say about the entire investigation?
Four months have elapsed since that night, and the story just keeps getting more complicated. Ten days after the incident, the British woman was arrested, and the Israelis still in detention were released and came home quickly and exultantly, demonstrating a stunning lack of taste, behaving as if they were freed hostages from the Entebbe hijacking. They went on with their lives while the woman remained in jail for another month, before being released under restrictive conditions. As far as we know she is not allowed, even after four months, to return home while her trial continues.
During this trial she said she was forced to retract her claim of being raped after being pressured and threatened by the two investigators who had also led the investigation of the Israeli men, Andrea Nikolati and the team leader Marius Christo.
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It seems that the name of Marius Christo is well-known to anyone following this case in Israel. At the beginning of the affair, when the Israelis were still in detention, news reporters kept quoting him, using his first name so that it almost sounded like a pet name: Marius said this, Marius suspects, the lawyer relies on Marius, etc.
Last week, in a mini-trial, the court rejected the woman’s assertion that she’d been forced to retract her rape complaint. In her testimony, the woman said she’d been brought to the police station that night, 10 days after the incident, without the female investigator who had accompanied her until then. For hours, without the presence of a lawyer, investigators kept accusing her of lying, threatening her that if she didn’t retract her accusations of rape they wouldn’t allow her to see her mother before she was in handcuffs.
“I was scared for my life,” she said in her testimony. Evidence that the defense produced, such as distressed text messages she sent her friends that night, was rejected. The judge ruled that her statement retracing her complaint was obtained through due process.
At the trial, Christo was asked a month and half ago why that night had not been documented. He replied that he couldn’t document everything.
The full picture of what happened that night may never be known. But one already sees that if the head of the investigative team has no answers, and if he brazenly lies from the witness stand, it’s doubtful that the Famagusta District Court in Paralimni Cyprus is now conducting a fair trial.