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Passport secrets bite harder than Dracula’s bride

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Cyprus couldn’t slip under the international radar during the summer and go about its usual business of tackling a deadly pandemic or deterring Turkish warships from cruising in its maritime zone.

If an unprecedented killer virus wasn’t enough to keep Cyprus occupied, an eastern Mediterranean crisis brewing off its shores has become another serious distraction.

Surviving a global pandemic intact is no easy task, neither is trying to persuade Ankara that gunboat diplomacy peaked in the 19th century.

The Cyprus government isn’t a great multi-tasker, it has trouble moving smoothly from one crisis to another.

So, it wasn’t best pleased that while mustering an East Med army to keep it safe from Turkish expansionism it was caught off-guard by a name-shaming exercise over its so-called passports for cash venture.

Of course, the government has heard it all before.

Al Jazeera is not the first media outlet to paint Cyprus as a money-loving laundromat for discriminating criminals who think nothing of splashing €2 mln plus VAT on a Cypriot passport.

All the favourite accusations were hurled at Cyprus like a dog who has had its fill of tasteless scraps.

This was another golden opportunity to wheel out the “Moscow on the Med” jibe, Cambodians with political exposure or being a haven for Chinese and Saudis escaping anti-corruption crackdowns.

There was a roll call of foreign suspects after the Qatar-based broadcaster got its hands on classified documents.

It wasn’t simply a one-off story about alleged sleaze, corruption, and fraud on the island.

There was a week-long bombardment of name-shaming Cyprus as if it were a dictatorship to rival Belarus or Zimbabwe.

Conspiracy theorists will question the timing of the bad publicity onslaught and why Cyprus was singled out for special attention.

Well, Cyprus doesn’t have a very bad bite, so whatever you accuse it of the comeback is going to be less painful than 30-minute school detention.

Initially, the government addressed the situation calmly, issuing a diplomatic statement saying it had done everything above board and would look into the Al Jazeera allegations.

But when the tap of poisonous accusations continued to run, the mood turned darker.

It was time for Cyprus to put on its game face, uncompromising, stern, and impervious to blame.

Interior Minister Nicos Nouris came locked and loaded to a press conference to confront the island’s accusers.

It wasn’t going to be pretty.

There was no intention to capture prisoners. He was going to drop the bomb on Al Jazeera.

In a nutshell, the counteroffensive was brutal.

Nouris went straight for the jugular, like count Dracula thirsting for blood.

He said Al Jazeera’s feverish attack on Cyprus’ reputation was no coincidence.

Qatar, where the broadcaster is based, was painted a pro-Turkish sympathiser.

There was no other reason, Qatar was hell-bent on destroying Cyprus politically and economically via a propaganda war dressed up as investigative journalism.

This was the gist of the government’s defence.

Most populist or nationalist leaders are prone to blame their failings on foreign forces lurking in the shadows to undermine them.

It is easier to blame an enemy of the people you can’t see than own up to incompetence on a grand scale.

Cyprus doesn’t need to be told repeatedly it made mistakes in its citizenship for the investment programme.

It knows some dodgy people should not possess a Cypriot passport.

Maybe the simple answer is we just didn’t do a good job of it.

Nicosia was desperate for cash post-financial meltdown; it didn’t have either the expertise or experience to make it watertight.

Along the way, the government failed to heed the criticism before it was too late. The mud has started to stick.

Incompetence in handling the scheme is quite different from suggesting the government went out of its way to give criminals a passport because they put cash on the table.

In the beginning, there weren’t too many questions asked, maybe Cypriot hospitality and trust went too far.

Cyprus has come under scrutiny because it is one of the few EU countries that give citizenship/passports rather than resident status.

It also seems that somebody in authority gave Al Jazeera the incriminating evidence, or must we assume Qatari spies are parading as Cypriot MPs.

Another conspiracy theory is this damaging expose is payback for trying to rip the Qatari’s off with that overpriced piece of land opposite the ex-Hilton hotel.

What this escapade should teach us is that keeping secrets with a lack of transparency will always come back to bite harder than a vampire bride.

Building overpriced luxury towers for the filthy rich also has a hidden cost.