Fresh trial for Al Jazeera passport sting

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A fresh trial of key figures accused of selling Cypriot passports to dubious investors, exposed by an Al Jazeera sting, was launched Wednesday, with the prosecution dropping charges against lawyer Andreas Pittadjis, one of the four accused.

On Wednesday, the Nicosia Criminal Court announced the latest charge sheet, removing Pittadjis, acquitting him of all charges.

The new trial was adjourned until November 14.

In September 2022, he faced five counts related to corruption offences and conspiracy to extort.

Charges emerged following a gotcha video from Qatar-based Al Jazeera network portraying senior officials caught on camera ready to assist a fictional Chinese businessman with a criminal past to obtain a Cypriot passport in exchange for money.

The passport cases involve Jordanian businessman Almi Hilmi Munib Armoush, Zaineh Ali Himli Armoush, Russian businessman Nikolay Gornovskiy and the case of the alleged Chinese investor with a criminal record.

Pittadjis was connected to the case of former Gazprom executive Nikolay Gornovskiy, who obtained a Cypriot passport through the now-defunct Citizenship for Investment Scheme.

Gornovskiy is wanted in Russia in connection to corruption involving abuse of power.

Following his acquittal, Pittadjis posted on Facebook about an “obscenely edited video of Al Jazeera” and “those who know the truth” but remained silent while hinting against the government for wrongfully targeting him.

In a long emotional post, Pittadjis also fired against the Cyprus Bar Association, who took disciplinary action against him when the Al Jazeera story broke.

The charge sheet now includes former Speaker of the House Demetris Syllouris, former AKEL MP Christakis Giovanis and Antonis Antoniou, a director of the latter’s companies.

Pittadjis will now be acting as the latter’s defence lawyer.

The trial of the original four started in September last year but was abandoned after the Nicosia Criminal Court was forced to discontinue due to a change in the composition of the bench at the end of June.

Prosecutors were then forced to resubmit the case.

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

The probe was prompted by the Al Jazeera expose.

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.

As a result of the undercover Al Jazeera video showing Syllouris and Giovanis offering help to the fictional Chinese businessman, the country’s citizenship for investment programme was axed in November 2020.