Revoking golden passports to Russians ‘impossible’

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An EU recommendation to member states to recall passports issued to Russian and Belarusian oligarchs on the bloc’s sanctions list puts Cyprus in an awkward position.

Lawyers warn that if Cyprus recalls citizenships given to Russians through the now-defunct citizenship for investment scheme, the Republic could be dragged through the courts, paying out millions in compensation.

The EU has requested that all member states stop all CIS programs and call off any residence incentive plans to attract Russian or Belarusian investors.

In comments to news site Stockwatch, lawyer Achilles Emilianides said that retracting citizenship is a matter of national law, noting that the deprivation of citizenship is only justified if acquired through deceit, false representation, and concealment of facts.

Regarding the sanctions imposed on Russians, he argued they are economical and have nothing to do with citizenship, emphasising the EU has no power to deprive people of their citizenship.

Another barrister, Andreas Angelides, noted that revoking citizenship is not easy, and people affected would file lawsuits claiming millions in compensation.

He argued that Cyprus should point out to Brussels that passports given to Russian investors were given legally and cannot be revoked without breaking the laws of the Republic.

Christos Clerides, President of the Cyprus Bar Association, said there is no binding obligation on the Republic of Cyprus to proceed with revoking citizenship granted to Russians whose names are on the EU sanctions list, as these are recommendations and not regulations or directives.

Clerides said the impression that all citizenships granted under this investment program should be revoked had been wrongly created.

Infringement process

He noted that EU recommendations on Russians included in the sanctions list have nothing to do with the EU infringement process against Cyprus regarding its golden passport scheme.

According to the EU recommendation, Member States should conduct assessments to decide whether citizenship previously granted to Russian or Belarusian nationals subject to sanctions should be revoked.

In carrying out the assessments, the Member States must consider the principles laid down by the Court of Justice of the European Union concerning the loss of EU citizenship.

They should also immediately revoke or refuse the renewal of residence permits issued under a residence permit program to investors of Russian or Belarusian nationals subject to EU sanctions in connection with the war in Ukraine, following an assessment.

Meanwhile, Brussels’ infringement process against Cyprus is still in progress.

The European Commission launched the process against the Republic for its ‘passports for cash’ scheme.

In November 2020, 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.

A public inquiry found the government broke the law countless times to grant citizenship to over 6,700 people from 2007 to 2020.

The 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.

Cyprus’ passport scheme generated over €8 bln during its lifespan from 2007.