Ministry denies blocking passports probe

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The Interior Ministry refutes Auditor General Odysseas Michaelides’ claims that it has obstructed his office’s investigation into Cyprus’ disgraced cash-for-passports scheme.

In reply to the auditors’ accusation, the ministry stated that a list requested contains sensitive information whose confidentiality must be preserved in the public interest.

The ministry is seeking legal opinion on the proper handover and handling of the information requested.

“Until then, the ministry will not provide the requested information.”

State auditors are requesting detailed information on providers of investment applications – law and audit firms.

The audit office said their request should have taken a “few hours” instead of six weeks, with the ministry citing the information requested as sensitive.

It requested the data on 2 September, “but the information was not provided despite repeated requests to the ministry”.

Ministry officials told the office that their request would need to be approved by the permanent secretary, who was always “unavailable”.

Hinting that the government had intentionally kept officials from handing over the information, the audit office reminded this was illegal.

This is not the first time that the audit office has gone head-to-head with the Interior Ministry, as it has accused it of obstructing their investigations several times in the past.

In August, the Auditor General released a report on the defunct Citizenship for Investment scheme, calling it “rotten” to its core.

Michaelides had said that several actions of government officials could constitute criminal acts.

The almost 200-page dossier contained the findings of a probe into 3,517 cases of foreign investors who acquired citizenship through the golden passport scheme, noting that actions by officials, including the cabinet, deprived the state of sizeable revenue.

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

At least 3,810 additional people were naturalised 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.

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.

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

It concluded 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.