Cyprus is to revoke Cypriot citizenship from seven foreign investors for violating the terms of its maligned passport-for-investment scheme, officials said Wednesday.
Cypriot government spokesman Kyriacos Koushos said the decision was taken during a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
“Cabinet decided to begin the process of depriving citizenship to seven people,” Koushos told reporters.
“These people concealed essential facts and had made false representations when submitting their application,” he added.
Cyprus began offering citizenship in exchange for substantial investment as far back as 2007, but the scheme was stepped up following the Mediterranean island’s 2013 economic crisis.
But Nicosia has faced pressure from Brussels to reform the scheme over concerns it may have helped organised crime gangs infiltrate the European Union.
Last month, Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera reported that dozens of those who applied for the so-called “golden passports” were under criminal investigation or international sanctions, or serving prison sentences.
Cyprus says it has tightened up the rules since 2007, including banning cash payments in 2014.
Under the latest regulations, the government grants a passport in exchange for an investment of 2.5 million euros ($3 million).
The tightened rules include complying with laws on money laundering, greater oversight and due diligence in line with European directives.
A ceiling has also been placed on the number of applications per year (700).
Even before Al Jazeera published its story, some 30 people had been referred for investigation to a special committee to see if there were “any violations of our criteria”.
The country is also re-examining the cases of all roughly 4,000 people who successfully applied for a Cypriot passport under the investment scheme since 2007.
Koushos said that 12 more suspicious cases have been referred to the police to ascertain whether they were wanted for any serious crimes abroad.
If so, their passports will also be revoked.
Around 4,000 Cypriot passports have been issued to foreign investors generating at least 7 billion euros.
Cyprus is one of the few EU members that offers a passport for investment rather than residency status.