Cyprus Ends ‘Golden Passport’ Program Amid Corruption Accusations


The small Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus has given citizenship and passports to greater than 3,000 foreigners who agreed to take a position at the very least $2 million within the nation — a “golden passport” that allowed the holders to journey visa-free all through the European Union.

However this week Cyprus introduced that it’s ending the initiative after an undercover investigation by journalists appeared to indicate two lawmakers serving to to rearrange a passport for a fictitious businessman, regardless of being advised he had a felony document.

A type of lawmakers, Demetris Syllouris, the president of Parliament and the nation’s second strongest official, resigned on Thursday. The opposite, Christakis Giovanis, resigned on Tuesday, and each males have denied any wrongdoing.

Cyprus was only one of several European countries that turned to providing what turned broadly referred to as “golden passports” to draw investments after their economies have been crippled within the world financial downturn that started in 2008. Within the final seven years, Cyprus has raised over 6 billion euros by way of this system — about $7 billion {dollars}.

However among the passport applications at the moment are seen as gateways for crime and corruption, and a menace to the integrity of the European Union, since such passports grant the suitable to journey to the union’s 27 member nations. The European Fee, the manager arm of the European Union, has stated that applications in Bulgaria, Cyprus and Malta are at specific danger for corruption.

The Fee is contemplating doable authorized motion towards Cyprus over the matter, stated Christian Wigand, a Fee spokesman.

He stated that European officers had “watched in disbelief” as the undercover investigation, produced by Al Jazeera and made public on Monday, purported to indicate high-level Cypriot officers keen to commerce European citizenship for monetary acquire.

“European values are usually not on the market,” stated Mr. Wigand, repeating an announcement made by the Fee’s president, Ursula von der Leyen, in her State of the Union address final month.

The passport program bars anybody with a felony document from making use of. However Mr. Syllouris and Mr. Giovanis, were filmed saying that they might assist get hold of a passport for a rich Chinese language businessman — who, they have been advised, had fled China after being sentenced to seven years in jail on fees of bribery and cash laundering.

“If there’s a drawback, we aren’t going to cease,” Mr. Syllouris stated within the footage aired by Al Jazeera. “You’ll have full assist from Cyprus.”

One other affiliate is proven within the video saying it was doable to make use of a pretend identify on the passport.

Cyprus’s legal professional normal, George Savvidis, stated the authorities would conduct an investigation to find out whether or not any felony acts have been concerned.

Each lawmakers rejected the allegations of corruption, saying that they’d truly been gathering proof to relay to the authorities that combat cash laundering. Mr. Giovanis additionally stated that the scenario was staged, and that he was entrapped into making the statements. Al Jazeera reporters posed as associates of the businessman.

Cyprus’ ministry of finance stated the nation had granted greater than 3,000 visas to candidates who invested two million Euros — or about $2.34 million {dollars}. The federal government said in a Twitter post on Tuesday that it’ll finish this system on Nov. 1, citing ongoing weaknesses and exploitation of this system.

This isn’t the primary report by Al Jazeera concerning the passport initiative. In August, leaked paperwork obtained by its journalists indicated that at least 60 people approved for Cypriot citizenship should have been rejected below tighter guidelines that have been launched in 2019 however then eased this yr.

In September, the federal government introduced that it was reviewing foreigners who acquired citizenship by way of this system. Lots of the passports have gone to Russian, Ukrainian and Chinese language buyers.

Cyprus additionally revoked the passports of 26 folks final yr after Reuters reported that new residents below this system included high-ranking Cambodian officers and shut associates of the Cambodia’s prime minister, Hun Sen. The chief has denied accusations that members of his inner circle have second passports that enable them to dwell abroad.

Activists who work to combat corruption welcomed the top of Cyprus’s program. They stated the European Union wanted to control such initiatives extra strictly, if not repeal them totally. The Cypriot authorities has not ruled out making modifications and reinstating this system.

Maíra Martini, a analysis and coverage professional at Transparency Worldwide, stated in an announcement {that a} full evaluation of passports awarded below the initiative was wanted.

“The overwhelming proof is that the nation’s ‘golden visa’ scheme serves corrupt pursuits, not the folks of Cyprus,” she stated.