Cyprus Cyprus stops ‘gold passports’ for investors

Cyprus Cyprus stops ‘gold passports’ for investors”

The decision, which will come into effect as from next month, follows an investigation by Al Jazeera which revealed how Cypriot politicians, lawyers and real estate companies have been involved in the sale of European Union passports to non-EU citizens with criminal records in the wake of the "Cyprus Papers" leak of 1,400 documents on the island country's golden passport scheme.

Maira Martini, Research and Policy Expert for corrupt money flows at Transparency International told OCCRP that the latest revelations in Al Jazeera's undercover investigation "are the final straw in Cyprus" "golden passports' affair", and that European Union visa schemes across the bloc "are broken beyond fix".

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"The initiative of the two ministers was based on the long-standing weaknesses, abuses and exploitation of the investment program", a government spokesman Kyriakos Koushos commented at the press conference.

The unit is believed to have used hidden cameras to show parliamentary speaker, Demetris Syllouris, and lawmaker Christakis Giovanis promising "full support" to granting a passport to a fictitious Chinese investor, despite having been convicted of being a money launderer.

The report also showed lawyer Andreas Pittadjis, real estate agents and others outlining to a man posing as a representative for the Chinese investor different ways to skirt background checks, including a name change or granting citizenship through his wife. But the government was forced to launch a review of past passport awards in 2018 after Reuters reported that eight relatives and associates of Hun Sen, Cambodia's authoritarian prime minister of 35 years, had received nationality.

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However, despite the visual and documented evidence, all members involved denied allegations presented by the Al Jazeera investigation.

"Some people fought for years and years for Cyprus to become a member of the European Union", she said, "and we can not accept people playing with the future of Cyprus in order to make money. that is why we are demonstrating tonight".

"We watched in disbelief how high-level officials were trading European citizenship for financial gains", Wigand told reporters in Brussels.

"The Commission has frequently raised its serious concerns about investor citizenship schemes, also directly with the Cypriot authorities". Syllouris has said he will take a leave of absence for the duration of the investigation, while Giovanis has tendered his resignation.

Mr Syllouris, who is Cyprus's second-highest ranking state official, said he would withdraw from his duties from 19 October. He apologized for the "unfortunate picture" and upheaval that the "staged and fragmented" report gave and which allowed his reputation and that of the institution of House Speaker to be sullied. An Al Jazeera undercover investigation aired this week heaped further pressure on Cyprus after a series of scandals over the sale of passports to people accused of crimes or linked to corrupt regimes. Malta and Bulgaria operate similar schemes to that of Cyprus. Around 4,000 Cypriot passports have been issued to investors under the program, generating more than 7 billion euros ($8.25 billion).

Rich Russians have enthusiastically taken up the golden passport offer in recent years.

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