British lawyers probe golden passports

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The Independent Anti-Corruption Authority has hired a team of internationally accredited legal experts to investigate claims involving high-ranking officials in the cash-for-passports scandal.

The previous administration set up the anti-corruption watchdog under President Nicos Anastasiades to investigate “as a priority” claims that he and cabinet members were involved in the golden passport debacle.

It was alleged that Anastasiades had run a corrupt administration under the influence of Russian oligarchs, published in three books by his former aide, Makarios Drousiotis.

According to Phileleftheros daily, the Authority has tasked two British lawyers who have previously represented EU governments in international courtrooms and have no ties to the island’s now-defunct citizenship for investment scheme.

The two will be joined by three Cypriot lawyers or auditors not involved in the scheme.

British lawyers are preparing a list of people to be interviewed in the framework of the probe.

The team will prioritise allegations made against Anastasiades by opposition AKEL MP Christos Christophides, combined with findings of Auditor General Odysseas Michaelides.

The first complaint against the former President concerns the alleged conflict of interest whose law firms offered services to dodgy investors seeking to obtain a “golden passport”.

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 certain 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.

Christophides had claimed that 353 passports were issued to clients of law firms belonging or related to the former President or cabinet members.

The AKEL MP also accused Anastasiades of using his position as President to benefit family members.

According to a second complaint filed by Christophides, a passport was given to a Russian investor who owns a banking institution housed in a building in Limassol, allegedly bought from one of the former President’s son-in-laws.

Drousiotis, who served as an advisor to Anastasiades from March 2013 to October 2014, had written a trilogy of books on alleged corruption incidents at the Presidential Palace.

The trilogy’s first book, “The Gang,” exposes how, during the 2013 banking crisis, the political elite rejected a European bailout package to protect the interests of the Kremlin.

His second book, “Crime in Crans Montana,” depicts how President Anastasiades allegedly walked out of the 2017 talks on Cyprus reunification.

Anastasiades had said in a November interview that he had contemplated filing for libel.

“I never did so to avoid being accused of attempting to gag the press,” he claimed.

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 illegally, encouraged by a due diligence vacuum or insufficient background checks.

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