Gay Sex Trap? The Strange Ordeal Of Michael Sarris, Cyprus’ Former Finance Minister, In The Turkish North

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Michalis (Michael) Sarris, the man who just resigned as finance minister of debt-ridden Cyprus in the wake of a contentious bailout deal, faced a very different kind of crisis a year and a half ago.

According to a report in Cyprus News Report, a news website based in Larnaca (in Greek Cyprus), in October 2011 (when Sarris was not serving as finance minister), he was arrested in Turkish-controlled Northern Cyprus (i.e, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, or TRNC) for allegedly engaging in sex acts with a 17-year-old teenage boy and perhaps another man.

The report stated that Sarris (who had already served as Cyprus’ finance minister from 2005 to 2008) was held in the city of Nicosia for three days for allegedly performing ‘unnatural’ sex acts with the 17-year-old Turkish-Cypriot boy, who was also arrested in the case.

Under laws that remain in force since the time of the British colonial period, homosexuality is illegal in Turkish Cyprus and upon conviction can lead to a jail term of up to five years. It remains the only part of Europe where homosexuality is a crime.

The law criminalizing homosexuality was repealed in Greek Cyprus in 1998 in order to facilitate its accession into the European Union.

But as the News Report pointed out, the arrest was very questionable given that, among other things, TRNC is not recognized by any government entity except the state of Turkey itself (which invaded the island in 1974 and seized the northern territory).

The European Parliament’s Intergroup on LGBT Rights reported at the time that a total of three men were arrested in a private home, including Sarris.

Subsequently, two Cypriot members of the European Parliament, Eleni Theocharous and Ioannis Kasoulides, demanded the immediate release of the three men.

“These arrests are in full breach of international law and the human right to private life,” they said in a statement. “Charging them is illegal under human rights law, denies their most basic rights and is wholly unnecessary as no harm was done. Consenting adults have the right to engage in sexual intercourse with people of the same sex; these men must be freed now!”

“These men must be released without delay, and the binding jurisprudence from the European Court of Human Rights must be implemented immediately in the whole island of Cyprus,' Michael Cashman, MEP and co-president of the Intergroup on LGBT Rights in the European Parliament, added. "The criminalization of homosexuality has no place in the 21st century.”

BBC reported that shortly after the arrest Sarris avoided prosecution in TRNC by crossing the border back into Greek Cyprus, although they said the other two men remained behind in northern Cyprus. It is unclear what became of them.

However, one week after the arrest, the Cyprus Mail reported that Sarris was released from custody in the north after spending a week’s detention -- he was bailed for 47,000 euros ($60,000).

“It was a difficult ordeal for myself, my family and my co-workers following unsubstantiated charges,” Sarris said, according to the Mail.

“The complete lack of any sort of evidence, the medical examinations and the entire witness testimony demonstrate that there was absolutely no sort of crime or illegality.

“I am obliged ... to express disbelief and sadness over the strange circumstances of my arrest, of the insistent efforts to incriminate me and the thoughtless and overzealous projection of malicious charges,” Sarris added.

Sarah Fenwick of Cyprus News told the International Business Times that the allegations against Sarris were highly suspect.

“Northern Cyprus is considered to have a rocky justice system, and the arrest was seen as more of a political set-up than anything else,” she said. “The allegations were never proven.”

Fenwick added that Sarris never appeared in court in the north since it is recognized by the south as legitimate.

In December 2011, two months after Sarris’ arrest, the leader of Northern Cyprus, Dervis Eroglu, said he would sign legislation to repeal the anti-gay law. However, more than a year later, the law remains in the books.

In the years since his arrest ordeal, Sarris as enjoyed a rather fruitful career, taking over the Laiki Bank (the second largest banking group in Cyprus) and then again taking the reins as finance minister in February 2013.

It remains unclear if Sarris still faces a criminal trial in northern Cyprus or not.

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