Police from both sides of the island took part in parallel operations early on Wednesday in the mixed village of Pyla, raiding a number of casinos.
Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou emphatically refuted the raids were in official cooperation with the Turkish Cypriot authorities.
“The police carried out an operation of which we informed the United Nations because it was in the buffer zone. Beyond that, we had no association with the pseudo police or any others. Our cooperation was the information we gave to the United Nations,” he said after a cabinet meeting.
Asked if a simultaneous operation by police from the north had taken place, Nicolaou said that he was only referring to an operation carried out by the Cyprus police. “I understand that it is possible that it [an operation from the north] took place, and by pseudo police but I have no information of the results,” he said.
The Cyprus Mail understands that no Greek Cypriot police took part in raids on Turkish Cypriot run gambling houses and no Turkish Cypriot police raided Greek Cypriot run venues.
Police said 31 people were arrested in the Greek Cypriot operation on six casinos, with around €15,000 in cash seized and 217 computers confiscated.
Thirty people had been charged and released by 4.00pm while a woman was held after being found to be illegally residing on the island.
However, Hakki Celal Onen, the Turkish Cypriot team leader of the bicommunal technical committee on crime and criminal matters, presented a different version of events on how the raids took place. He said a joint operation on eight casinos had been carried out with the coordination of the UN and that the arrests included six Turkish Cypriots, one Romanian, three Vietnamese as well as those from “southern Cyprus”.
Onen’s version would seem to be supported by an earlier report on CyBC which said the illegal gambling operations were shut down by Cyprus police working in the village at the same time as their counterparts from the north and the UN.
Reports say that the plainclothes officers who took part in the raids, which began at 4am and were concluded by 9am, were armed and wore yellow and red hats to identify themselves to each other.
The village, located in the buffer zone, is inhabited by Greek and Turkish Cypriots but because of its status it is not policed by the Republic’s authorities.
It is a UN-controlled area but the force cannot execute the duties of the police, thus allowing gambling joints to operate with impunity.
It is understood that some eight casinos were operating in the village. One was operated by a Turkish Cypriot, the rest by Greek Cypriot underworld figures from all districts. The state of affairs developed in the past three years.
Most of the casinos offered electronic gambling apart from one, which also has tables.
The operators rented the buildings from Turkish Cypriots and even enjoyed free electricity and water provided by the Republic.
According to CyBC, Pyla residents welcomed the raids, calling the gambling dens “a cancer to their community”.
In March this year Giorgos Georgiou, 40, aka Chiquito, was gunned down on his way home, located near the motorway exit to Pyla, the victim appeared to have been shot sniper-style from a distance.
Georgiou, a father of three, had moved his family into the house three months previously. Reports said he had been warned by police to take measures to protect himself.
He was known to police in connection with gambling but according to reports he had also been the target of a murder plan foiled last summer. It was said that he operated a casino in Pyla and was preparing to open a second one.