Outrage, anger over passport sleaze expose

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Cyprus Attorney-General George Savvides said there will be an exhaustive probe following outrage over an Al Jazeera report where officials appeared happy to bend the rules for a criminal to acquire a Cypriot passport.

Noting that the Al Jazeera expose has caused “outrage, anger and concern” among public opinion, Savvides said he gave clear instructions to the police to conduct a full, thorough and in-depth investigation into the possibility of anyone committing criminal offences.

In a written statement, Savvides said he convened a meeting Tuesday at his office, in the presence of the Assistant Attorney General, Law Office officials, the Assistant Chief of Operations and senior officials of the police during which they decided on next steps.

“We will do whatever is deemed necessary with the aim of safeguarding the public interest,” said Savvides.

The fallout from the AlJazeera probe aided with secret video recordings has seen the cabinet decide to scrap the investment scheme from November 1.

Meanwhile, the protagonist in the Al Jazeera report left-wing AKEL MP Christakis Giovanis resigned Tuesday and Parliamentary Speaker Demetris Syllouris has stood down from office pending an investigation.

Giovanis resigned from the House of Representatives and the positions he holds in AKEL’s political hierarchy.

“Following the staged video with the ‘undercover journalists’ of Al Jazeera, which aimed to damage the prestige of our country, and the investment program of Cyprus, for reasons of political ethics I submit my resignation as AKEL MP for Famagusta,” said Giovanis.

He said resigning would give his party “the opportunity to proceed with a full investigation and clarification of the case”.

In another unprecedented move, Syllouris announced on Tuesday he was standing down to allow an investigation while publicly apologizing for the distress caused and the “unpleasant” image conveyed.

Syllouris – who holds the second highest office in Cyprus – said as of October 19 he will be abstaining from his duties until investigations are completed into the passport scandal.

He apologized for allowing the institution of the Speaker of Parliament to be marred.

Sylloris suggested he has already decided against remaining in office but will make no public announcement until the police probe.

The allegations surfaced in an hour-long undercover report by Al Jazeera’s investigative unit that used hidden cameras to show Syllouris and Giovanis pledging “full support” to grant a passport to a fictitious Chinese investor, despite a money laundering conviction against him.

The report also showed lawyer Andreas Pittadjis, real estate agents and others outlining to a man posing as a representative for the Chinese investor different ways to skirt background checks, including a name change or granting citizenship through his wife.

Both Pittadjis and Giovanis strongly denied the allegations, saying they were fully aware that the approach was bogus and that they only played along to extract more information from the “representative” to file a report with Cypriot authorities.