Al Jazeera passports trial dissolved

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The trial of four key figures accused of selling Cypriot passports to dubious investors, exposed by an Al Jazeera sting, has been abandoned and must be refiled just eight months after it started.

It emerged Wednesday the Nicosia Criminal Court was forced to discontinue the trial due to a change in the composition of the bench at the end of June.

As a result, charges against former House speaker Demetris Syllouris, ex-AKEL MP and businessman Christakis Giovani, senior manager of the Giovani Group Antonis Antoniou and lawyer Andreas Pittadjis have been dropped.

State prosecutor Elli Papagapiou said the case “cannot continue, due to the imminent change in the present composition of the Court,” clarifying that “the criminal case had to be suspended and a new one filed”.

She added: “In view of the upcoming judicial reform and the fact that no time is provided for the trial of this case, the procedure cannot continue, “.

The case which ended the lucrative citizenship for investment scheme was brought before the assizes last September, with the hearing beginning on 26 October.

Less than eight months later, the process must be reset, as legal services resubmit the case.

The change in the court’s composition was known from 30 January when the appointments of the Judges of the newly established Court of Appeal were announced.

Among the judges appointed was the current chair of the Nicosia Criminal Court, Judge Stavros Stavrou.

The Court of Appeal judge is expected to take office from 1 July 2023.

According to the Cyprus News Agency, legal services will resubmit the case, but procedures are not expected to start before September, marking 365 days since the first hearing.

Meanwhile, defence lawyers said they would resubmit their objections to the charges brought against their clients.

The four men face five bribery and corruption charges, including conspiracy to subvert the Republic and influencing a public official.

Attorney General George Savvides decided to prosecute them after assessing the findings of a public enquiry conducted by former supreme court judge Myron Nikolatos.

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

The citizenship for investment programme was axed in November 2020 after an undercover Al Jazeera video showed Syllouris and Giovanis offering help to a fictional Chinese businessman with a criminal record secure a Cypriot passport.