A CYPRUS opposition lawmaker on Thursday called on the government to explain itself after Reuters disclosed relatives and allies of Cambodia’s leader acquired Cypriot passports under a controversial investment for citizenship scheme.
Irene Charalambides, who is also a special representative on fighting corruption for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, issued a scathing post on social media saying the disclosure made Cyprus the object of international “ridicule”.
“Where does the issuance of passports stop? Until when will we stop apologizing internationally? Finally, there is a fire with the smoke,” the MP for the left-wing AKEL party wrote in a Facebook posting.
“This is an international ridicule, which is not covered by any justification,” she wrote.
“The Minister of Interior is required to answer.”
A Reuters investigation revealed that family members and allies of Cambodia’s long-time prime minister, Hun Sen, have overseas assets worth tens of millions of dollars, and have used their wealth to buy foreign citizenship – a practice Hun Sen has decried as unpatriotic.
Eight family members or allies – including the country’s police chief who has been instrumental in clamping down on dissent in Cambodia, and its finance minister – sought and received Cypriot citizenship in 2016 and 2017, Reuters reporting showed.
Since the inception of the citizenship scheme in 2013, and until 2018, the Cypriot government had approved 1,864 applications.
The European Commission warned in a January report that what it called “golden passports” could help organized crime groups infiltrate Europe and raised the risk of money laundering, corruption and tax evasion.
While Cyprus authorities say their processes are transparent, who gets citizenship is protected by data laws.
The Cyprus government did not respond to questions from Reuters before publication of the report on the Cambodians.
After publication, a spokesman said the citizenship program was “absolutely credible and transparent” while declining to discuss individual cases.
The information in the Reuters report “will be taken into serious consideration”, the government spokesman said.
Editing by Robert Birsel