Court to rule on first golden passport case

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Cyprus justice is close to delivering the first verdict involving Cypriot law firms who allegedly facilitated dubious foreign investors acquiring passports via the disgraced citizenship for investment scheme.

Following a lengthy court procedure, the Criminal Court has completed a case involving passports issued to three Iranian investors, with judges set to announce their ruling on 4 November.

Four law firms and five individuals were represented in court, including a prominent Larnaca lawyer.

The well-known lawyer, his son and three employees are accused of fraud, plus four companies that provided administrative services associated with the law firm.

The case was registered with the courts on 14 May 2021, based on the conclusion of the public probe headed by the former head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Demetra Kalogirou.

Kalogirou identified 27 cases of foreign investors who should not have been given a Cypriot passport.

A criminal investigation confirmed that the three Iranians had presented false identity information to the authorities.

One of the Iranian men – granted citizenship and his parents – had appeared under two names and was wanted by Interpol for fraud and embezzlement.

The Cypriot lawyers allegedly acted as intermediaries to subvert the state and illegally secure Cypriot citizenship for the three Iranians.

Although instructions were given to prosecute the three Iranians, locating them and bringing them to justice failed.

One of the cases involved a citizen of the Dominican Republic with Iranian roots, originally called Mehdi Ebrahimi Eshratabadi, who presented himself as Tony Newman.

Interpol wanted the suspect for embezzling €30 mln from the Iranian Army.

Last month, the Cyprus Bar Association revealed that the largest law firms lacked due diligence checks on foreign investors granted a Cyprus passport.

Christos Clerides, the head of the Bar Association, said it reviewed actions taken by 20-25 big law firms while dealing with the naturalisation cases of their clients.

The law firms under the Bar Association’s microscope were mentioned in at least one of the two public probes.

A damning report put together by a committee headed by former supreme court judge Myron Nikolatos said over half (53%) of the 6,779 passports granted were done so illegally, encouraged by a due diligence vacuum or insufficient background checks.

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.