Asylum seekers in Cyprus, 2017 | Photo: picture-alliance/AP Photo/P. Karadjias
Asylum seekers in Cyprus, 2017 | Photo: picture-alliance/AP Photo/P. Karadjias

In an unprecedented serial killing case that has shocked the Mediterranean island, a Greek Cypriot army captain who murdered five migrant women and two girls was handed seven life sentences. Accusations of rampant racism and police negligence had led to the dismissal of the police chief and the resignation of the justice minister.

A Cyprus criminal court on Monday sentenced an army captain to seven life terms in prison after he pleaded guilty to the premeditated murder and kidnapping of seven foreign women and girls in early May.

Nikos Metaxas, a 35-year-old army captain, was led into a Nicosia court under heavy security and stared grimly at the ground as a prosecutor read out a string of charges, including kidnapping and the killings of the women and two of their daughters.

Earlier, Metaxas pleaded guilty and tearfully apologized to the families of his victims for the "unjust pain" he has caused them. After the prosecutor read a long document detailing his crimes and how he had hidden the bodies, Metaxas, who faces life in prison, read out a short handwritten statement apologizing to his victims.

He doesn't "have any clear answers" why he committed the killings and that he has "struggled" to figure out the "why and how," he said. Metaxas killed four Filipino women and the daughter of one of them, as well as a Nepalese woman and a Romanian mother and her daughter.

The island nation's presumed first serial killer case also marks the first time in Cypriot legal history that a defendant has faced seven counts of premeditated murder.

'Campaign of murder'

The three-judge panel said Nicholas Metaxas appeared to have mounted a "campaign of murder" in choosing defenseless women, most of whom came to Cyprus looking for work. Prosecutors said he sought out many of his adult victims on online social networks using the handle "Orestes35" and had sex with them.

The judges handed him seven life terms of 25 years each, five of which will run consecutively. He is not expected to appeal.

Metaxas, a divorced father of two children aged 6 and 9, initially refused to cooperate with investigators. But as the evidence increased, he buckled and confessed in a 10-page handwritten note to the seven killings.

His seven victims, all of whom foreign women who had come to the tourism-driven island for work, included Romanian Livia Florentina Bunea, 36, and her 8-year-old daughter Elena Natalia; Maricar Valtez Arquiola, 31, from the Philippines; Ashita Khadka Bista, from Nepal; and Tiburcio's daughter, Sierra Grace.

Accusations of negligence

The killings, carried out between September 2016 and the summer of 2018, shocked the small Mediterranean island nation of around one million people.

Cyprus is a prime destination for migrants from Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia, many of whom are employed as housekeepers and menial workers. The police's failure to follow up on reports of women going missing had sparked outrage and led to the dismissal of the police chief and the resignation of the justice minister.

Protesters have accused the police of racism, saying the searches had been botched because the missing women were foreigners. Moreover, relatives and friends of the five murdered women have accused authorities of neglect over the killings.

President Nicos Anastasiades criticized the police for "apparent negligence and dereliction of duty." He also acknowledged that better initial investigations could have prevented some of the killings.

All Metaxas' victims except Bista had been reported missing to police shortly after their disappearance. The disappearance of Bunea and her daughter in October 2016 was the subject of an investigative report by a local TV reporter, who said police claimed they had good reason to believe that the mother and daughter had crossed into the breakaway north of the ethnically split island.

How the murders unraveled

The killings went undetected for nearly three years, coming to light on April 14 when the decomposing body of Mary Rose Tiburcio, 38, from the Philippines was found by chance in a flooded mine shaft. Brought to the surface by unusually heavy rains, tourists spotted the victim’s body.

Four days later, the body of 28-year-old Arian Palanas Lozano, also from the Philippines, was pulled out of the same mineshaft, which was part of an abandoned copper mine.

That sparked a manhunt that led to the army captain's arrest four days later. He then directed investigators to the sites where he had dumped the other bodies, including in a toxic lake near the capital Nicosia.

Authorities spent weeks searching the lake with help from Israeli and British experts before finding the body of a child believed to be the killer's seventh and final victim. Divers had found the child's body wrapped in a carpet with a cement block attached to it.

The Cyprus government has agreed to cover the funeral costs of all seven victims and pay 17,000 euros to each surviving child of the victims.

With material from AP and AFP


More articles