When Cypriot politicians bend it like Beckham

3 mins read

It could no longer be laughed-off as a pro-Turkish, Qatar-manipulated propaganda stunt to embarrass Cyprus in the international arena.

High-ranking Cypriot officials, politicians, lawyers and real estate developers are implicated in allowing criminals to buy an EU passport using the Cyprus citizenship through investment programme.

The government could no longer swat the corruption allegations aside by blaming the dark forces of investigative journalism.

There it was on camera, for everyone to see.

In full view was the smarmy arrogance in bending the law as they wished, if the price was right.

“This is Cyprus ‘my friend’, you have money we can make a criminal look like an angel in his passport picture.”

A fine example of typical Cypriot cronyism where privilege and power gave them the self-appointed right to play fast and loose with the rules.

Most Cypriots acknowledge there is soft-sell corruption in Cyprus, it’s how things get done – a favour for a favour.

Cyprus, like everywhere else, is for the elite, well-connected and filthy rich – the majority can scrap for what’s left.

Politicians, lawyers, businesspeople, property developers, civil servants, accountants all rubbing each other’s back while basking in the glow of invincibility.

Maybe that’s why the Al Jazeera secretly-filmed golden passports sting hit a raw nerve.

It wasn’t so much that the expose portrayed Cyprus as a tin-pot republic, rather the protagonists were so self-assured in their ability to corrupt the system as if they were buying a cup of expensive coffee.

As the lawyer – who hasn’t resigned – said in the film without a hint of irony – “the more you pay the higher you go”.

Such people are the epitome of mediocracy, they are living it every day, a world of nepotism and backhanders.

Maybe this is where the anger stems from.

How Cyprus works

Protesters who took to the streets to demonstrate were not shocked so much by what happened but realised they had seen a snapshot of how Cyprus works.

These were not random opportunists looking to make easy money, but senior politicians made rich by a system that served them.

They invented the rules of the game which is why they were so cocksure in being able to secure a Cyprus passport for a convicted felon.

Before us were the ‘untouchables’ of Cypriot society in all their bubble wrap plumage.

But they committed the cardinal sin of letting greed get the better of them and getting caught.

While facilitating a precious passport, they forgot the golden rule — loot and pillage the system as much as you like but don’t get caught with your pants down.

Once the dust settles and the pretence of a “thorough investigation” is complete, don’t expect these guys to end up in prison.

Okay, they are unlikely to be the flavour of the month but they won’t be losing any of their wealth and privilege, that’s for sure.

Since the Al Jazeera ‘gotcha’ video, parliamentary speaker Demetris Syllouris was forced to resign as was AKEL MP Christakis Giovanis who also dabbles in real estate.

Certainly, they thought they would never get caught because they ‘owned’ Cyprus.

Like most people dipped in privilege and power they were Teflon-coated, although not clever enough to know they’d been scammed.

Investigative journalism or whistleblowing is not a Cypriot thing but Al Jazeera targeted the soft underbelly of the passport scheme.

Using an undercover operative called Billy, who claimed to represent a Chinese investor sentenced to seven years in prison for money laundering, Al Jazeera gained access to the establishment.

Billy was told by all and sundry that the prison sentence would not be an issue as long as huge wads of cash were involved.

Two months ago Al Jazera published The Cyprus papers of 1,400 documents indicating some dodgy characters had obtained Cypriot citizenship.

With Cyprus’ history on due diligence, this is hardly a revelation.

The government tried to bat the allegations away by going after the suspects who leaked the documents, even though Nicosia was warned by the EU on this same issue.

Cyprus is an easy target to pick on with outsiders ready to believe we are a few crooks short of a world championship-winning team.

In its defence, the passport programme created jobs and generated billions for the economy at a time the country faced bankruptcy.

Nevertheless, the government had been alerted about the opaqueness of its investment scheme offering so-called ‘golden passports’.

It chose to ignore those calls in a timely fashion, despite trying to desperately plug some leaky holes in the investment ship.

Mounting a typically Cypriot response, the government blamed foreigners out to get them, believing it knew best.

Guess what?

Unceremoniously, Cyprus ditched the scheme declaring it unfit for purpose soon after the latest Al Jazeera accusations hit the fan.