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Cyprus president regrets taking free flight for family trip

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — The president of Cyprus said Thursday that he regretted accepting a free flight on a Saudi businessman's jet for his family's vacation in the Seychelles but that the private travel arrangements didn't break any laws or ethical guidelines.

President Nicos Anastasiades said in a written statement that his family's use of the jet “could've been avoided" to prevent what he called a “needless commotion" over the August 2018 trip and “groundless” claims.

Opposition political parties had questioned and criticized Anastasiades' ethics over his decision to fly with his family on the Saudi businessman's jet. A presidential aide read the president's statement out loud to a members of a parliamentary oversight committee.

An auditor-general's report on presidential travel expenditures found no wrongdoing with the Seychelles trip. The Auditor General's report said use of the plane didn't breach tax laws because it hadn't been provided to the head of state, but rather “as a result of the president's friendly relations with its owner."

Anastasiades said the flight wasn't a “gift” from the Saudi businessman who owns Jetstream Aviation, a Cyprus-based company. The Saudi gained Cypriot citizenship in 2015 under the country's investment plan.

The Cypriot president said that because of their friendship, he took up the businessman on his offer to fly the Anastasiades family to the Seychelles, where the jet already was scheduled to go to pick up the Saudi's own vacationing family.

Anastasiades' said his friendship with the owner of JetStream Aviation had saved the Cypriot government 592,000 euros ($642,800 ) in aircraft charter fees and led to a 500,000-euro ($542900) donation to a student fund.

“In all my years in public service, I have never hesitated to make difficult decisions or to accept responsibility for decisions or actions that may have contained an element of error," Anastasiades said.

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