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Further golden passports revelations

A golden passport villa
A villa purchased by Abdulrahman bin Khalid bin Mahfouz in Limassol, Cyprus. Credit: OCCRP

Further revelations concerning the island’s disgraced Citizenship by Investment (a.k.a. Golden Passports) scheme, which enabled dubious individuals to acquire Cypriot passports, has been revealed in reports by Al Jazeera and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).

In its undercover investigation ‘The Men Who Sell Football’ Al Jazeera reported how convicted criminals could buy English football clubs, which could then be used to launder their ill-gotten gains.

The Men Who Sell Football shows middlemen telling undercover reporters how they can hide a criminal’s money and identity behind offshore trusts and submit fraudulent due-diligence reports to English football authorities.

The middlemen explained how they could help the undercover reporters obtain a new passport for their client, and give him a new name to completely deceive the football authorities.

“We’ve done this many, many times for others who, I can assure you, are in a worse position than your boss,” said one of the middlemen.

One of the middlemen then introduced Al Jazeera’s undercover reporters to contacts in Cyprus. This led Al Jazeera to investigate what was going on in Cyprus, which resulted in their The Cyprus Papers Undercover investigation in October 2020.

The Al Jazeera report led to the resignation of the then House President Demetris Syllouris and his close friend Akel MP Christakis Giovanis and sparked anti-corruption protests in Nicosia.

Their football investigation claims that an unnamed Cyprus government minister flew to London to personally help a Russian investor with a murky past; a claim that was categorically denied in a press release by the Presidency of the Republic.

A separate investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) shows a photo of a villa in Limassol purchased by Saudi businessman Abdulrahman bin Khalid bin Mahfouz, whose receipt of citizenship has been questioned by the Auditor General of Cyprus.

“The Auditor General hasn’t accused anyone of criminal activity, but said the murky circumstances of the case warrant more investigation,” says the report.

Golden Passports by the thousands

Cyprus approved 6,679 golden passports between 2008, when the program began, and August 2020. This includes around 3,100 primary applicants, as well as their spouses, children, and parents. In total, the country raised at least 6.6 billion euros through the program, according to figures from the Ministry of Finance.

In early 2014, Cyprus made changes to its citizenship-by-investment program to attract more foreign investors. Previously, individuals had to invest 5 million euros. This was lowered to 2.5 million euros per participant for “collective investment schemes” of at least €12.5 million. Each participant was also required to spend at least €500,000 on a residence in Cyprus.

In June, former Supreme Court Chairman Myron Nikolatos released a report on the program. He found that in over 53 percent of cases, the law had been violated when granting golden passports, especially when it came to secondary applicants.

The European Commission has launched infringement procedures against Cyprus (and Malta); a move that could potentially lead to financial penalties imposed by its Court of Justice.

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