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Friday, October 22, 2021

Cyprus abolishes ‘golden passport’ scheme following Al Jazeera investigation


One MP quits and a government scraps its passport investment programme – here’s a look into ‘The Cyprus Papers’.

An Al Jazeera documentary drove the Cypriot government to abolish its Citizenship Investment Programme (CIP), which offers foreign investors passports, authorities confirmed on Tuesday.

The Cyprus Papers, an Al Jazeera expose, investigated the unethical and illegal Cypriot citizenship schemes, where parliament members provided passports for convicted criminals. Authorities swiftly took action by scrapping the scheme from November 1, the ministers of finance and interior announced.

“The proposal was based on the long-standing weaknesses but also on the abusive exploitation of the provisions of the programme,” the Ministers of Finance and Interior said in a statement.

Cypriot Attorney General George Savvidis also said there will be an investigation into criminal offences revealed in the Al Jazeera project.

The documentary revealed how parliament speaker, Demetris Syllouris, and member of parliament, Christakis Giovanis (also known as Giovani in Cyprus), were involved in the passport scheme that helped provide convicted criminals with passports through the CIP.

Following the documentary’s release, Giovani resigned on Tuesday.

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“I submit my resignation as AKEL MP. I also submit my resignation as a member of the central AKEL committee and all other positions in the party,” Giovani announced.

Syllouris also said he will be stepping down until the final completion of the investigation.

Al Jazeera was able to obtain a cache of almost 1,400 documents proving the parliament members’ involvement in the scheme.

Money laundering risk

According to the documentary, the CIP entails providing those able to invest at least $2.5 million in the country’s economy, mainly through the real estate sector, with the Cypriot passport.

The CIP was previously criticised by the European Union (EU) and anti-corruption NGO’s due to the high risk of money laundering cases.

“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,” said the European Commission.

Furthermore, Al Jazeera previously revealed that Cyprus had granted passports to criminals convicted in their home countries and wanted by Interpol. 

According to The Cyprus Papers, at least 23 applications were fast-tracked by the minister of interior.

Scandal exposed

Al Jazeera’s reporters went undercover in order to carry out the investigation, using the aliases Billy Lee and Angie.

Reporters pretended to represent a Chinese businessman convicted of money laundering that was interested in obtaining the Cypriot passport.

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

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The same sentiment was echoed by Syllouris, who said,“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.”

Both parliament members said that the money laundering sentence would not be a problem – when in reality it would be a major issue and an obstacle in acquiring the passport.

They also involved a lawyer who was ready to change the Chinese businessman’s identity, including his name.

However, despite the visual and documented evidence, all members involved denied allegations presented by the Al Jazeera investigation.

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