Finance Minister Constantinos Petrides, who oversaw Cyprus’ disgraced golden passport scheme while he was serving as interior minister, says he should have pushed harder to end the programme while he had the chance.
Petrides, who served as interior minister between 2017 and 2019 in the Anastasiades administration, told Kathimerini Cyprus in an interview published Sunday that ending the Citizenship by Investment Programme was “absolutely necessary and totally the right decision.”
The interview came days after the Republic of Cyprus made global headlines this month following an undercover story by Al Jazeera. The foreign investigative series of reports, along with an earth-shattering secret videotaped in October 2019 that exposed alleged corruption in high-ranking political officials, led to the resignation of former House Speaker Demetris Syllouris and MP Christakis Giovanis.
Petrides, who was at the helm of the interior ministry that oversees passport applications, never came up by name during the recently-published secretly-taped encounter between undercover reporters and Syllouris, but the former Speaker was heard suggesting that he would casually call the minister to get an opinion on questionable applications.
The minister denied categorically ever meeting with Syllouris regarding specific investor applicants, while admitting to Kathimerini’s Marina Economides that there were suspicions of a Trojan horse within the interior ministry.
But Petrides said both himself and the general director at the ministry contacted police in the past to investigate suspicions or complaints.
Asked to comment on whether he thought about resigning, the finance minister said he did not believe he did anything wrong or acted in a harmful way for the country during his tenure at the interior ministry.
“On the contrary, I tried to introduce more effective safety measure clauses to protect Cyprus as an investment destination,” Petrides said.
The minister went on to explain that he was viewed by many as someone who wanted to “kill the programme.”
“Despite efforts over the last few years to bring about strict measures in the programme, so that its credibility could be maintained, lasting weaknesses, the nature of the programme itself, and the abuse associated with it, all harmed Cyprus’ image to such a degree that the programme could not go on,” Petrides said.
An ongoing probe into the scandal aims to unearth any corruption or irregularities that may have taken place within the CIP.
The finance minister said whether he and former general director Kypros Kyprianou were at fault on any issue regarding the passports, “this is something to be revealed after the completion of the investigation.”
If there is one thing, I regret is that I didn’t insist on abolishing the programme sooner,” Petrides said.
The finance minister previously served as Under Secretary to the President of Cyprus from 2013 until 2017, when he was known for pushing for reform on several big issues, including healthcare when he clashed with trade unions and professional groups.
He left the interior ministry to take on the position of finance minister on 3 December 2019.
The passport scheme is to be suspended on 1 November 2020, with government officials saying a revamp of the programme is expected to take place after the current investigation is concluded.
(This article was first published in KNEWS, the English edition of Kathimerini Cyprus, on 19 October 2020.)
Al Jazeera reporter explaining to Sigmalive the reason they came to Cyprus.
Lawyer Andreas Pittadjis appearing to explain to Al Jazeera undercover reporters how the rules of the golden passport scheme could be bent.