Belated ‘sorry’ over passports debacle

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President Nicos Anastasiades gave an overdue apology on Friday for his government’s mistakes and shortcomings in handling the disgraced Cyprus passports for investment scheme.

Speaking at the swearing-in of the new cabinet members, Anastasiades said he would not shirk his responsibility, despite an inquiry finding no proof of corruption by the cabinet or himself.

He called it the most painful period of his political career.

“That is why I will not hesitate, with honesty, to apologise and ask for the people’s forgiveness for our mistakes.

“Unfortunately, I admit, there was not the necessary diligence on behalf of the Government to address the gaps, deficiencies and weaknesses of a Program which, since its adoption in 2007, due to a lack of legal framework and the required oversight, was abused by devious people.”

Anastasiades did say that the public and political reaction to the cash-for-passport fiasco was over-the-top and overtly hostile.

The government was forced to pull the plug on its Citizenship for Investment scheme in November following a ‘gotcha’ Al Jazeera video alleging corruption in the ‘golden passports’ scheme.

The undercover video portrayed high ranking officials ready to assist an investor from China with a dubious past to obtain a Cypriot passport.

The video also revealed how civil servants would assist in speeding up the passport process while overlooking the applicant’s criminal record.

Al Jazeera’s video led to a public outcry and the resignations of the House Speaker and an AKEL MP.

A couple of months before, Al Jazeera had aired another report suggesting Cyprus was providing citizenships to dubious individuals.

The government fiercely denied the report, seeking to assign ulterior motives to the broadcaster.

The President used the swearing-in as an opportunity to highlight the work of the government during the eight years of his administration and outline the remaining 20 months of his tenure.

The new cabinet members are Stefi Drakou as Justice Minister, Michalis Hadjipantelas, the island’s Health Minister, and Anastasia Anthousi, who will take over at the newly created welfare junior ministry.

Marios Pelecanos and Niovi Parisinou were appointed government spokesperson and deputy government spokesperson, respectively.

Panayiotis Sentonas moved from deputy government spokesman to volunteerism commissioner, rebranded as the Commissioner for Citizens, while Andreas Iosif took the helm at the President’s press office.

Anastasiades said the appointments were based on academic qualifications, professionalism and experiences, and their ethos and honesty.