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Punish golden passports crime

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Last October, the international broadcaster Al Jazeera released a damning investigative report on how a convicted criminal can obtain a European passport in Cyprus for the right price.

The report sent shockwaves across the political spectrum forcing the speaker of the parliament to resign, along with another MP from the opposition AKEL party.

It also forced the government to abandon the controversial “investment for citizenship programme” and paved the way for an independent investigation.

The release of the interim report of the independent commission appointed by the Attorney General to investigate the controversial ‘golden passports’ programme came as a nasty surprise.

It concluded that the system was rotten and blasted promoters and the government for a series of failures that contributed to the abuse and ultimate downfall of the programme.

I asked Dr Christos Clerides, President of the Cyprus Bar Association, a no-nonsense lawyer who commands the highest respect in the legal profession, to give his views on the matter and how the country can move forward.

Clerides said the independent commission’s findings regarding the investment for citizenship programme confirm the findings of the earlier Kalogirou report and the Auditor General’s reports.

“The findings of the two latter reports should have led to the immediate criminal investigation of all those involved in the scheme,” Clerides said.

“What is disturbing is that the Council of Ministers collectively participated in illegalities.

“In advanced democracies, one would have expected more sensitivity and political repercussions.”

He added that equally disturbing is the public’s reaction at large, which, unfortunately, is very complacent.

“Unfortunately, conflict of interests situations that also came into light by the interim report seems to go unnoticed.

“This matter touches the President himself, Ministers, and the Office of the Attorney General.

“If the whole saga is swept under the carpet, Cyprus will never be able to recover from this sad affair, and the professional services sector will suffer heavily.”

Asked what can be done to restore the country’s reputation as a credible provider of professional services contributing to the growth of the Cypriot economy, Clerides replied bluntly: “Punishment of the guilty ones is of prime importance.”

“This involves criminal sanctions at the initiative of the Office of the Attorney General.

“It also involves penalties/revocation of licenses by the anti-money laundering (AML) supervising authorities, namely the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Bar Council, and the Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

“It also involves the initiation of disciplinary proceedings.

“In addition, it is imperative that the anti-corruption legislation pending before the House of Representatives be voted.

“But most of all, we need a drastic change of culture at all levels, including the political parties.”

Clerides said we also need to enhance supervision by independent bodies, and where conflict of interests is potential, to exclude it.

“The Greco and Moneyval reports should be implemented without further delays. “This involves procedures that affect the judiciary (appointment promotion of judges), the House of Representatives and the Attorney General’s office.

“I am afraid the road is long and thorny.”