Interior, Finance Ministries sanctioned dodgy passports

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Cyprus Interior Ministry said Wednesday it would study the findings of a damning inquiry into the passports for cash investment scheme ignominiously scrapped on 1 November.

The interim findings of the probe revealed irregularities and unlawful practices, putting the spotlight on shortcomings of the Finance and Interior Ministries.

The 515-page dossier, prepared by a four-member commission headed by a former senior judge, Myron Nikolatos, pointed out deficiencies in the way the Interior Ministry processed applications, including the “complete lack” of a database to vet applicants properly.

“The 515 pages of the interim report records comments and observations while reference is made to omissions from the beginning of the programme,” the Interior Ministry said in a written statement.

It further argued that it had sought to correct the long-standing omissions and distortions through regulations approved by parliament in August 2020.

The government unlawfully issued 3,500 passports to the relatives of wealthy investors under a now-defunct, lucrative citizenship-for-investment program, the critical interim report by an independent commission found on Tuesday.

It said despite warnings in 2015 and 2016, “the government took no action to remedy this problem up until August 2020”, when parliament approved tighter regulations.

The report also found that 44 investors should be deprived of citizenship, and authorities should consider the possibility of revoking the naturalisation of another 22 investors.

Some 6,779 citizenships were granted to foreign investors and family members, and managers of companies investing in Cyprus from 2007 to 17 August 2020.

The interim report claims that procedures for 51.8% of all passports given within the discredited golden passport scheme framework pertained to irregularities.

Of the 6,779 citizenships, 48.19% related to investors/business people, 33.90% to spouses, and 17.91% to adult offspring and other relatives.

It meant that the majority of passports, 51.81%, related to family members.

“The Cypriot Investment Programme operated without proper legal guidance, and it is obvious that errors were committed in the interpretation of the provisions of the enabling law…” the report states in its conclusions.

According to the report, service providers preparing applications on behalf of foreign investors used political connections to push their clients’ applications.

The interim report was redacted so as not to affect ongoing legal cases against certain applicants. No date was given when the final report would be published.

Cyprus dropped the “golden passport” scheme in November after Al Jazeera aired a documentary showing reporters posing as fixers for a Chinese businessman seeking a Cypriot passport despite having a criminal record.

Parliament speaker Demetris Syllouris and AKEL MP Christakis Tziovanis were secretly filmed allegedly trying to facilitate a passport for the fugitive investor; they later resigned, although insisted their innocence of any wrongdoing.

Al Jazeera reported that dozens of those who applied were under criminal investigation, international sanctions or even serving prison sentences.

Cyprus CIS program was created in 2007 but ramped up in 2013 following the financial crisis to generate over €8 bln.