Cyprus ‘haven’ for Chinese, Saudis fleeing corruption crackdown

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Many people trying to dodge oppression or a crackdown on corruption have bought Cyprus passports in an attempt to escape the regimes of their home countries, according to Al Jazeera.

Based on an investigation of more than 1,400 leaked documents on applications filed by foreign investors during 2017-19, Al Jazeera has turned the spotlight on dodgy suspect individuals who bought a ‘golden passport’.

An article published Thursday focuses on rich Chinese and Arab officials and politically exposed persons.

According to the media outlet, more than 500 Chinese nationals and 350 Arabs were approved for Cypriot citizenship after investing at least $2.5 mln.

“For people from China and the Middle East, having an EU passport is attractive because it allows them visa-free travel, work and banking options throughout Europe, an advantage they would not usually have considering their countries are often flagged as “high risk” for corruption and financial crime,” said Al Jazeera.

It said Chinese businesswoman Yang Huiyan, who is often described as Asia’s richest woman, worth an estimated $27 bln received a Cyprus passport.

“I think nearly all your very rich in China would probably have a second passport in order to give them some kind of security,” Professor Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies told Al Jazeera.

“Strictly speaking, it’s all illegal,” Tsang added.

“The law in China controls the out-road of capital beyond $50,000 and so if you try to get any money out of that, without going through the formal process and permission, then you are breaking the law.”

The report said another group that has found its way to the island are people from the Middle East.

Al Jazeera claims more than 350 passports have been bought by Arabs living amid political instability, mainly in Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

“Some of the applications come from those still holding positions of influence, making them Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs), meaning they are considered to be at higher risk of corruption,” said its report.

Under regulations introduced to the Cyprus investment scheme in 2019, PEPs are now excluded from being eligible for a Cypriot passport.

According to Al Jazeera the list includes names like Apurv Bagri, an Indian citizen and board member of Dubai’s Financial Services Authority, and Hussain Al Nowais, board member of the state-owned Emirates Steel and National Petroleum Construction Co.

There are also several Saudi PEPs on the list, including Khaled Juffali, board member of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, and Mohammed Jameel, a member of the Saudi General Investment Authority.

Finally, the latest Cyprus Papers report claims that people fleeing from an anti-corruption crackdown in Saudi Arabia have applied for a Cypriot passport.

During that anti-corruption crackdown, several of the crown prince’s opponents ended up being imprisoned in the Ritz Carlton hotel in Riyadh in 2017.

The detainees allegedly paid a total of $100 bln for their release.

According to Al Jazeera, that crackdown, mainly aimed at Prince Mohammed’s political opponents, has led several wealthy Saudis to consider the EU a possible safe haven.

Nicosia has dismissed Al Jazeera’s so-called ‘Cyprus Papers’ as malicious propaganda.