Golden passports fiasco will not be buried

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Attorney-General George Savvides has given reassurances that nothing will be swept under the carpet during investigations into corrupt procedures for granting Cyprus passports to foreign investors via the Citizenship for Investment Scheme.

An Ad hoc committee was appointed to probe cases of dodgy investors to determine whether there were criminal offences committed.

The Attorney General has also given explicit instructions to the police to step up investigations into possible criminal offences committed by people appearing in Al-Jazeera’s ‘gotcha’ video which depicts politicians aiding criminals to obtain a Cyprus passport for money.

“These investigations are ongoing and statements from people involved are being taken,” Savvides told a news conference Monday.

The latest 50-minute video, released by the outlet, allegedly uses an investor described as ‘Mr X’ who is reportedly a convicted Chinese national, living in Hong Kong.

The video showed then parliament speaker Demetris Syllouris, then AKEL MP Christakis Giovanis and a lawyer as the key figures in a passport scam.

Both Syllouris and Giovanis resigned soon after the video was released.

Savvides argued the investigation needs careful handling and called on Auditor General Odysseas Michaelides to back down on wanting to conduct “a parallel probe which could potentially hinder investigations”.

Appearing piqued with the Auditor General, Savvides said that Michaelides had tried to undermine him with his public statements.

He also called on the Auditor-general to respect other independent institutions and procedures rather than hindering the work of the Law Office.

Savvides argued that the Audit Office could carry out its own passport probe at a different time.

The two institutions have been at odds with the way the issue should be handled.

The Audit Office claims it has a constitutional obligation to exercise its powers and responsibilities and expects “other independent institutions and state officials to respect the fact that it is independent and under the tutelage of no one”.

Michaelides has slammed the government for refusing to hand over the details of a July 2019 cabinet decision granting citizenship to 18 people connected to the casino investment.

“I call the auditor-general and the audit office to note that the Attorney General is the guardian of the constitution and the laws,” said Savvides trying to bring the row to a close.

The government’s handling of the CIS scheme is under the spotlight once again as daily Phileleftheros argued that amendments to the scheme pushed through in June not only failed to tighten criteria but loosened them.

In response, Interior Minister Nicos Nouris claimed that the latest set of regulations were prepared by an independent committee which integrated the EU anti-money laundering directive.

“The fact that regulations state persons wanted by EUROPOL or INTERPOL, but also accused of serious offences such as bribery and tax evasion which incur prison sentences of more than five years are excluded from being eligible to apply, demonstrates the strictness of the terms of the program”.

This has become a redundant argument as the passport scheme is being scrapped on 1 November with no plans to replace it.