Cypriot Archbishop Chrysostomos II said he vouched for fugitive Malay businessman Taek Jho Low in his bid to secure a Cyprus passport in 2015.
Leader of the Cyprus Orthodox Church sent a written request to the cabinet asking that they fast-track the naturalisation of the Malaysian fugitive who is wanted by Interpol, Malaysian and USA authorities in a money-laundering scam involving billions of US dollars.
In comments made to state CyBC radio, the Archbishop admitted to sending the letter of recommending that procedures for the naturalisation of Low be expedited in September 2015.
He said this was not the first time that he had personally intervened to recommend that investors be granted a Cypriot passport for the sake of the economy.
He said, the letter was a request for consideration, noting that the competent authority to grant citizenships is the cabinet, which should conduct its investigations through the police, Interpol and the Central Bank.
He said that he did the same for a total of three investors who were buying property built on church land sold to a developer for the construction of luxury villas. Taek Jho Low had purchased a EUR 5 mln villa in Ayia Napa.
He also confirmed that the church had received a cheque for EUR 300,000 from the fugitive businessman who, as he said, wanted to contribute to the then newly founded Theological School.
Previously, former Interior Minister Socrates Hasikos had denied any intervention on behalf of the Archbishop through a Twitter post.
Mistakes were made
Meanwhile, the government has assumed its responsibility, vowing to rectify any wrongdoing regarding passports handed to investors with a dubious past.
"We have to acknowledge that mistakes were made and obviously we are taking responsibility while the criteria for the scheme have been made stricter since the beginning of the year," said Finance Minister Harris Georgiades.
Speaking at the 15th Cyprus Economist Summit” in Nicosia, he argued that the credibility of Cyprus is far more important than selling another villa.
The Finance Minister said that controls have been tightened, adding that the importance of the investment scheme for the economy should not be overestimated. As he said, a false picture is given that Cyprus depends on this programme.
Jho Low is allegedly involved in a multi-billion-dollar scandal that surfaced in 2015 when he was managing an investment firm named 1Malaysia Development Berhad headed by the then prime minister of Malaysia Najib Razak.
According to a Bloomberg report, Low allegedly created a series of shell companies through which he channelled hundreds of millions, many of which ended up in his accounts.
According to an expose by Cypriot daily Politis, as soon as the scandal broke out in 2015, in which 30 executives of the US investment firm Goldman Sacs were said to be involved.
Politis said Low submitted a request to become a Cypriot citizen in exchange for a EUR 5 mln investment through the international law firm Henley & Partners.
Henley & Partners in a statement said it has "never contracted with Low or with any corporate vehicle he controlled – whether directly or indirectly. He was never our client and we never received any funds from him".
The 1MDB fund was set up in 2009 by Razak as a vehicle to drive the country to growth and boost the public wealth. Razak was arrested on 19 September 2018 and is faced with 32 charges of fraud and money laundering.
Low has denied any wrong-doing.