Police busy chasing illegal golden passports

2 mins read

Cyprus police have their hands full with suspect golden passport cases, as the heat is on government officials and politicians who allegedly facilitated dubious foreign investors with Cypriot citizenship.

According to reports, 130 cases are under the police microscope, 103 derived from a public inquiry carried out by an independent committee headed by former supreme court judge Myron Nikolatos.

Some 27 were identified by a second committee led by Demetra Kalogirou, the former head of the Cyprus Securities and Exchange Commission.

The probe headed by Nikolatos found “criminal and political” responsibility.

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

Three cases involving a total of five passports are already before the courts.

A Phileleftheros daily, quoting police sources, said that investigations in three to four more cases would be concluded in September.

An officer told Phileleftheros that these types of cases are complicated, and the examinations are often time-consuming since evidence and documents from abroad are needed.

Also, because many people are involved, and the interested parties are outside Cyprus, it takes a long time to complete investigations.

A case concerning the naturalisation of an applicant from Russia is at a very advanced stage, according to the police source. The case involves a “well-known law firm”.

The police are in constant communication with the Attorney General’s official, who issues instructions on a case-by-case basis.

In the latest probe, the Auditor General earlier this week said the island’s Citizenship for Investment Scheme was ‘rotten’ to the core.

The 200-page dossier into 3,517 cases of foreign investors who acquired citizenship through the golden passport scheme said actions by officials, including the cabinet, deprived the state of sizeable revenue.

The report’s key conclusion is that many people who used the scheme did not meet the criteria.

At least 3,810 additional people were issued passports as spouses, adult dependent children, or parents of the investors without any legal authorisation.

According to the report, officials at the Interior Ministry concealed information from the cabinet and the House of Representatives regarding applications.

An estimated €200 mln was lost from VAT and another €25 mln from uncollected fees.

The Auditor General, Odysseas Michaelides, intends to inform the European Commission of the findings of his investigation.

Brussels launched infringement proceedings against Cyprus in October 2020.

The passports scandal could influence the presidential elections in February 2023, as some critics hint that at least two candidates are directly involved.

In statements to news site Stockwatch, former rector of the University of Cyprus, Stavros Zenios, claimed “candidates for the highest office of the country were actively involved, determining the policy (of the scheme), sitting at the table where these tragic decisions were taken. Therefore, they owe us an explanation”.

The citizenships programme was axed in November 2020 after an undercover Al Jazeera video showed then House speaker Demetris Syllouris and Akel MP Christakis Giovanis offering help to a fictional Chinese businessman with a criminal record to secure citizenship.