Former speaker, MP on trial in Al Jazeera exposé

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Four key figures accused of selling Cypriot passports to dubious investors for cash, exposed by an Al Jazeera sting that ended the lucrative citizenship for investment scheme, will stand trial on 26 October.

Following a hearing at the Nicosia Criminal Court on Monday, former House speaker Demetris Syllouris, ex-AKEL MP and businessman Christakis Giovani, senior manager of the Giovani Group Antonis Antoniou and lawyer Andreas Pittadjis will stand trial next month.

The Cyprus News Agency said four men face five charges, including conspiracy to subvert the Republic and influencing a public official violating the laws criminalising corruption.

They were released on conditional bail ranging from €50,000 – to €30,000.

The case was brought before the court on orders of Attorney General George Savvides, who decided to prosecute after assessing the findings of the public enquiry.

Representing Syllouris, lawyer Chris Triantafyllides asked the court to note the defence argument that there is a conflict of interest with charges filed by the Attorney General and his deputy Savvas Angelides, who served as ministers during the passport scandal.

Triantafyllides said the duo representing the Republic “were involved in three of the charges” filed.

In August 2020, broadcaster Al Jazeera claimed high-ranking officials were ready to help a Chinese investor with a criminal past obtain a Cypriot passport through investment.

Parliament speaker Demetris Syllouris and opposition AKEL MP Christakis Giovani were secretly filmed trying to facilitate a passport for the fugitive investor.

Prominent Famagusta lawyer Pittadjis also featured in the video and others linked to Giovani’s property development company.

Syllouris and Giovani later resigned, although both insisted they were innocent of any wrongdoing, claiming the video had been illegally recorded.

Until then, despite earlier criticism from Brussels, the government had fiercely defended the passport scheme but had to scrap it in November 2020 hastily.

Following the damaging fallout, the government commissioned former judge Myron Nicolatos to conduct an enquiry.

The enquiry 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.

Cyprus began offering citizenship in exchange for substantial investment as early as 2007; the scheme was stepped up following the 2013 economic crisis.

It also said that politicians and institutions were accountable while certain applicants and service providers may be held criminally culpable.

The Qatar-based broadcaster reported that dozens of those who applied for the so-called “golden passports” were under criminal investigation, international sanctions, or serving prison sentences.

Under the scheme, the government granted a passport for an investment of €2.5 mln.