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Tuesday 20th October 2020
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Cyprus ditches ‘golden passport’ scheme

Cyprus has announced it will abolish a controversial passport scheme following an investigation by Al Jazeera that revealed how high-ranking politicians were willing to issue passports to convicted criminals.

The interior and finance ministries said in a statement posted in Greek on Twitter that the citizenship through investment programme in its current form will be abolished from November 1.

“The proposal was based on the long-standing weaknesses but also on the abusive exploitation of the provisions of the programme,” Tuesday’s statement said.

In addition, Cypriot Attorney General George Savvidis announced it would start an investigation into possible criminal offenses.

“What has been published in the last few hours by the Al Jazeera news network is causing outrage, anger and concern among the people,” his statement read.

On Monday, Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit released The Cyprus Papers Undercover, which showed the willingness of parliament speaker, Demetris Syllouris, and member of parliament, Christakis Giovanis (also known as Giovani in Cyprus), to aid and abet convicted criminals to obtain a passport through the Citizenship Investment Programme (CIP).

Weeks earlier, Al Jazeera also released The Cyprus Papers, a cache of almost 1,400 documents showing Cyprus had granted passports to criminals convicted in their home countries and people wanted by Interpol in the previous years.

Following Tuesday’s announcement by the Cypriot government, Syllouris said he would abstain from duties from October 19 until any government investigations had been completed.

Politicians implicated

Anyone who could afford to invest at least $2.5m in the Cypriot economy, usually through real estate, was able to obtain a Cypriot passport.

The programme has been regularly criticised by the European Union and anti-corruption NGOs, which claim it would increase the risk of money laundering through Europe’s financial institutions.

Posing as Billy Lee and Angie, Al Jazeera’s reporters went undercover, pretending to represent a Chinese businessman interested in acquiring a Cypriot passport. The mystery businessman had been convicted for money laundering, which should have disqualified him as an applicant under Cyprus’ rules.

However, time and again they were told that the sentence would not be a problem as long as enough money was invested.

MP Christakis Giovani, also one of the island’s most prominent real estate developers, told the undercover reporters he would ensure the deal was done.

“It’s not easy. But I can promise, we shall do the best. And I believe we have the experience,” Giovani said.

Parliamentary speaker Demetris Syllouris went even further, saying: “You can tell him that he will have, without mentioning my name or anybody else’s, full support from Cyprus. At any level – political, economic, social, everything – OK.”

These sentiments were echoed by several others, including a lawyer who said that it would even be possible to change the name on the passport, effectively changing the identity of the applicant.

EU criticism of passport scheme

After Monday’s revelations, the European Commission said in a statement it watched the revelations in disbelief.

“President von der Leyen was clear when saying that European values are not for sale,” the Commission said.

“The Commission has frequently raised its serious concerns about investor citizenship schemes, also directly with the Cypriot authorities. The Commission is currently looking at compliance with EU law of the Cypriot scheme in view of possible infringement proceedings,” it added.

“We are aware of the latest declarations of the government and expect the Cypriot competent authorities to thoroughly look into this case.”

Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld told Al Jazeera the film “fully exposes the ‘citizenship by investment’ schemes for what they really are: a cover operation for bringing criminals and criminal money into the EU.

“Today we have therefore renewed our call on the European Commission to not only take legal action against Cyprus, but submit a legislative proposal banning the practice altogether,” she added.

“If this film is not enough evidence for the need for a legal ban, then what is?”

Her comments were echoed by her colleague Sven Giegold, who said: “It is key that the EU takes over and that this means that the resident programme and the investment programme have to be ended.

“What is so shocking about these pictures is how natural it seems. This was not a one-case accident, it seems structural.

This needs a treaty violation procedure by the European Commission.”

The Cyprus Papers

After The Cyprus Papers, Cyprus defended its programme, saying there had been several mistakes in recent years but tightening laws and checking applicants’ backgrounds were sufficient to stopping criminals obtaining passports.

At least 23 applications had been fast-tracked by the minister of interior, while problematic individuals could apply for a passport with ease through their family members’ citizenship applications.

© 2020 Al Jazeera Media Network

11 COMMENTS

  1. I‘ll keep it simple. The Kays, owners and operators of Sold on Cyprus Property agents, need permission to operate in Cyprus. They were clearly implicated in golden passport fraud. Should Sold on Cyprus not be prohibited from operating?

  2. Everyone in that video needs to be investigated an dealt with accordingly. Licenses revoked the lot.

    Does anyone know if what the journalists did was legal though? Making up Mr X etc? Just curious.

  3. I watched that video and I’m a bit puzzled as to why there is no mention in your article of the husband and wife team from Sold on Cyprus. They didn’t seem at all concerned that the “buyer” had been given a prison sentence for money laundering. In fact they more or less implicated that they had dealt with difficult situations in the past and they had a very good success rate due to their close relationship with Mr Giovanni who is a very good person to know in these situations. They surely need to be investigated too and also mentioned in articles as they played a big part in this! No mention of them at all….can you explain why pleases?

    • The article was written by the Al Jazeera Investigative Unit, not by me. I have no control or say in what Al Jazeera publishes.

      We’ll have to wait to see what happens to Denise & Tony Kay and Sold on Cyprus until the Cyprus police have completed their investigation.

  4. Please don’t put all Cypriots in the same category, in every country in the world there are always people willing to break the law but so too there are a vast majority of good people who work hard and are honest.

    • Thanks Anna, Unfortunately many people who comment here have been conned out of their money by estate agents, property developers, lawyers, etc. But none of their stories get the media attention of those implicated in ‘The Cyprus Papers’.

      I see there was a demonstration outside parliament yesterday calling on its president, Demetris Syllouris, to resign and all those involved to be jailed.

    • Anna,

      I am one of those people who Nigel mentions who was conned out of a lot of money by banks, developers, lawyers – and a really grubby, shady, UK broker.

      We are all aware that some Cypriots on Cyprus soil were also conned – and conned on energy scams before the property scam really kicked in. Unfortunately corruption is corruption.

      Corruption doesn’t just occur in Cyprus either – it’s present across the globe. Cyprus has just gone further than the ‘norm’ – and hence it’s put itself most intensely on the radar.

      Don’t worry – we all know who the rogues are – and we hope that one day – karma kicks in for all of them. Hopefully, this might just be the decade that instigates it.

  5. For me to bring down this president and his cronies is a simple task, same way as Al Capone
    Was slung is jail

    But who has the B…. to do it ? You be surprised how a tax investigation will brake their bones
    Filth to the core!

  6. Top marks for sharing this Nigel – and I know it’s already been seen by a substantial number of people working on legal cases in the Republic – which just strengthens our position that corruption is institutionalised in Cyprus like a layer-cake.

    It is shameful on a number of fronts:

    i) It’s taken Al Jazeera to ‘out’ this dodgy scam for exactly what it is – and exactly who is involved. Shame on the BBC, and other European major broadcasters that not ONE of them has had either the backbone or wit to put any effort whatsoever into investigating what’s going on over there. In the case of the BBC – why are we all paying a licence fee for them? I shall soon consider adding ourselves to the large and growing number of people who refuse to give them any more subscriptions. They are increasingly useless.

    ii) The E.U should not be praising Al Jazeera but looking into the mirror as to why they’ve been so asleep at the wheel allowing it to happen in the first place! I worried back in the days when individuals like commissioner Viviane Reding – stated they were ‘satisfied’ Cyprus was managing its affairs properly. Her, (and people like her) should have been doing their jobs a bit better and looking a lot harder!

    iii) Those lovely brokers. Brits. Oh the shame. How many dodgy brokers over the years have been Brits? I look at them – and I’m ashamed to be carrying the same passport. It’s like the old adage – “don’t tell my mum I’m a broker in Cyprus – she thinks I play the piano in a whore-house”. Total loss of moral compass from ‘the Kay twins’. They certainly aren’t the first – and wearingly – I suspect they won’t be the last.

    iv) What now? This is the key observation. Where now Cyprus? Just how much more shame can you handle?

    Time for root and branch reform, and the E.U to step up..

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