Cyprus to revoke 45 golden passports

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The government has decided to revoke the citizenship of 45 dubious investors who obtained a Cyprus passport through the disgraced citizenship by investment scheme, which collapsed under corruption scandals.

The decision was announced on Friday by government spokesperson Marios Pelekanos.

He said the cabinet based its decision on an independent inquiry into the programme, which recommended looking into the possibility of rescinding citizenships and other actions in 102 cases.

“The cabinet decided to launch the revocation process for 39 investors and six members of their families and to cancel a previous cabinet decision to naturalise an investor and a dependant family member,” Pelekanos said.

He also said the cabinet would be examining a further six cases and monitoring another 47.

An inquiry into the issuing of so-called ‘golden passports’ between 2007 and 2020 was conducted by an independent committee headed by former supreme court judge Myron Nikolatos.

The probe found there was “criminal and political” responsibility.

“It is obvious the Cyprus Investment Programme operated between 2007 and 2020 with gaps and deficiencies, an inadequate legislative framework and almost no regulatory framework,” Nikolatos told reporters in June.

A damning report said that over half (53%) of the 6,779 passports granted were done so illegally, encouraged by a due diligence vacuum or insufficient background checks.

Last November, the Mediterranean island dropped the passport scheme 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 an opposition MP were secretly filmed allegedly trying to facilitate a passport for the fugitive investor.

They later resigned, although both insisted they were innocent of any wrongdoing.

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

Nicosia had long faced pressure from Brussels to reform the scheme over concerns it may have helped organised crime gangs infiltrate the European Union.

Cyprus argued it had attracted necessary investment following the island’s 2013 economic meltdown.

Nicosia issued thousands of passports under the scheme, allowing investors to acquire one in exchange for an investment of €2.5 mln, netting over seven billion euros for state coffers over the years.

The European Commission warned Nicosia over its golden passport scheme, launching a legal procedure against Cyprus, which is still ongoing.

Much to the chagrin of Brussels, the scheme attracted wealthy foreign investors because a passport from EU member Cyprus allowed free travel and residence within the 27-member bloc.