For a second day on Monday, the Qatar state-owned broadcaster Al Jazeera continued to release a selection of 1,400 Cyprus government documents regarding the Cypriot Investment Programme which it claimed showed citizenship was “sold to dozens of foreigners linked to crime and corruption”.
Interior Minister Nicos Nouris swiftly condemned the reports on the programme which grants citizenship in exchange for investment and implied Turkey was involved in an attempt to wrongly discredit Cyprus.
“We should ask why an organisation like Al Jazeera, when we know to which country it belongs and we know where this country stands politically, chooses this moment in time to try to deal a blow to the Cyprus Republic. This is a question we must all ask including those criticising the operation of the (citizenship) programme,” he told the Omega TV lunchtime programme.
He was referring to the very close political, military and economic ties between Qatar and Turkey and at a time when tensions have risen in the eastern Mediterranean.
The Al Jazeera reports are at best disingenuous, at worst malicious, deliberately portraying the programme as a means for politically exposed or criminal persons to obtain citizenship in Cyprus.
Not only are the facts reported incomplete, and the description of the programme inaccurate, but the source of the “huge leak of confidential Cypriot government documents” was the result of deliberate abuse of personal data by officials in Cyprus.
What is true about the Al Jazeera series is that it is intended, on the one hand, as a political smear, and on the other as an attempt to discredit the Cypriot Investment Programme just after it has been carefully reformed and redesigned to ensure careful selection of awarding citizenship. The Al Jazeera series claims to report “flaws” in the Cyprus scheme, but makes no attempt to report the facts.
The Cyprus Mail will in two upcoming articles reveal the smear tactics used by Al Jazeera, the means behind this criminal leak of personal data, and the questionable motivations behind this attempt to hurt Cyprus’ reputation. The articles will also explore the well-known political influences to which Al Jazeera has shown to be subject – from both Qatar and Turkey.
First, we report the real facts behind the Cyprus Investment Programme.
Nouris on Sunday stressed that all the individuals revealed by Al Jazeera were evaluated according to the criteria in force at the time – and that these criteria have since been tightened and reinforced.
“We want to clarify that all the individuals mentioned in an Al Jazeera article were evaluated according to the criteria which were in force at the given time and which fulfilled the consent of all relevant services in Cyprus and internationally had been secured for these individuals,” he said.
“It is well known that the Republic of Cyprus has made successive changes to improve the citizenship-by-investment programme, most importantly the recent vote by the House of Representatives, regulations which ensure transparency, credibility and continuous control both before submitting an application and after obtaining Cypriot passport.”
On Monday he also warned that there was a personal data issue. Reproduction of the names of people granted passports was a criminal offence, something confirmed by the Commissioner for the Protection of Personal Data.
Asked whether he suspected who had leaked the 1,400 applications for citizenship, between 2017 and 2019, which Al Jazeera claimed to have in its possession, Nouris said he did not. All he knew was where the documents went. The services involved were those of the interior and foreign ministries as well as the House of Representatives.
‘Golden Visa’ Programmes
The United States, the United Kingdom, Malta, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, Greece, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Spain, Portugal and Turkey also all have ‘golden visa’ programmes, in which foreign investment or the movement of assets into the country leads to a residence permit, and nearly always eventually to citizenship.
These programmes have been the subject of criticism for some years. The UK programme was recently described thus by the Lydon Consultancy: “The revelations about this programme have included a smattering of cases of corrupt governmental kleptocrats and of ‘businessmen’ whose wealth has been derived from criminal, or at least highly suspicious, activities.”
But it is wrong to single out the UK, or the US, because legitimate criticism of this type has been ongoing for decades with regard to nearly every market of this type.
Reforming the Cyprus Programme – Revocation is possible
The Cyprus programme was first implemented in 2007, and in 2013 was extensively reworked and tightened, then again in 2014 and 2016.
Direct investment, to the amount of €5 million, or bank deposits, government bonds, business activities in Cyprus, along with further terms were the basis of the required investment. Character references were evaluated, and later, those with criminal records were not eligible. Applicants were required to own a private residence worth at least €500,000 and to hold a valid residence permit.
In 2019, further tightening measures were added. A €75,000 donation or investment in Cyprus research or into innovative companies was added, along with a mandatory donation of €75,000 to the Cyprus Land Development Corporation.
Investments are required to be maintained for at least five years. Applicants must already have a Schengen visa in order to acquire citizenship.
All of this is subject to enhanced due diligence, not only by government agencies but also by independent third-party experts like the well-known Kroll.
Citizenships that have been awarded may be revoked if there are questions about the present or past conduct of the persons in question.
In a following article, the Cyprus Mail will show how Al Jazeera has been subject to political influence and banned in many countries. This unjust attack on Cyprus and its institutions does not come at this time for an arbitrary reason.