Cyprus urged to scrap ‘corrupt’ golden visas

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Cyprus Citizenship for Investment scheme has not only attracted Al Jazeera’s attention but also come under scrutiny from global anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International who wants it binned.

Transparency International, a Berlin-based non-governmental organization, committed to combating global corruption, has called on the European Commission to take decisive action against the scandal-ridden ‘golden visa’ schemes.

The NGO’s call follows a leak of Cypriot government documents which it said showed that the Citizenship for Investment schemes remain vulnerable to corruption and money laundering.

Transparency International said, “the Cyprus Papers – a new series by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit – shows that the EU is currently defenceless against the haphazard sale of EU citizenship and residency to criminals and the corrupt”.

Investigative reporters obtained a trove of documents that appear to show how an investment of over €2 mln in Cyprus secured EU citizenship for 1,400 wealthy individuals and their 1,100 family members from 2017 to 2019.

Reportedly, among the primary applicants were at least 30 individuals with pending criminal charges or convictions, as well as 40 politically exposed persons.

“Despite sporadic reforms in response to criticism and public scandals – Cyprus’s golden passports scheme has remained vulnerable to corruption and money laundering”.

Some on the list appear to have bought their passports after the government introduced more stringent eligibility criteria in May 2019.

For example, former Gazprom official Nikolay Gornovskiy was on Russia’s wanted list for corruption when he reportedly bought EU citizenship in 2019.

“The government of Cyprus has previously admitted mistakes, committing to fix loopholes and to revoke citizenship from those who should not have been granted it in the first place.

But the Cyprus Papers show that the problem is far greater than occasional lapses of judgement. By design, the Cypriot scheme is prone to abuse and the only adequate response is to suspend it,” said Laure Brillaud, senior policy officer at Transparency International EU.

“These investigations add to the mounting evidence that the Member States have little incentive to sufficiently reform their golden visa schemes to prevent abuse.”

Al Jazeera on Tuesday published another part of the Cyprus Papers, claiming that more than 1,000 Russians obtained a Cypriot passport through the investment scheme.

Documents obtained by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit showed that almost half of the applications came from Russia.

“Showing how the country’s political and business elite, billionaires and criminals have been buying their place in the EU, granting them the ability to travel, work and bank in the whole of the EU”.

Al Jazeera reported that a number of Cypriot passport holders have made their money through political and economic relationships with their own government.

Its list includes a number of politically exposed persons like former Deputy Minister Igor Reva and former Russian MP Vadim Moshkovich.

The list provided by Al Jazeera also includes the former boss of a subsidiary of the state-owned railways, Vitaly Evdokimenko, and Vladimir Khristenko, who comes from a highly politically connected family, his stepmother is the current deputy prime minister of Russia.