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Where oligarchs fear to tread

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Only Cyprus could attract a storm cloud of dirty money allegations that dumps toxic financial bombs on its reputation as an investment destination.

Although the torrent of leaked documents unleashed by the Cyprus Confidential probe makes unpleasant reading for the authorities, lawyers, and accountants, it does smack of schoolyard bullying.

The country may be a conduit for Russian oligarchs to park their illicit millions to hide from international sanctions, but it’s not the only player on the board.

It’s a lazy trope to peddle – a tiny island full of shady deals, porous laws, vigilance deprived and nifty bankers available to make it all go away in a puff of smoke.

Cyprus relies on its service economy, and making dodgy money disappear has become a traditional cottage industry since the invention of cash stuffed into suitcases.

In a country where nobody pays their dues, loopholes are there to be chosen, and responsibility is a delicacy the rich and powerful feed to the poor.

Accountability and transparency are concepts championed in our drive to become a European democracy, but it doesn’t apply to rule breakers.

So much irregularity goes unpunished that we become puzzled when the Europeans treat us like second-hand car sales staff trying to flog them a piece of expensive junk.

We can’t be trusted because we don’t trust ourselves to do the right thing.

There are so few examples of self-sacrifice for the greater good that we expect our public officials to be deviant in some capacity.

A quick study of the justice system will alert you to the absence of those jailed for abuse of power.

How many bankers were jailed for the 2013 financial meltdown when the country nearly went bankrupt, and thousands lost their life savings?

Who has felt the force of the legal system for the stock market crash in 1999-2000?

There is little chance of Cyprus being taken seriously after it sold EU passports for cash to crooks and dictators.

When the Europeans told us to stop selling passports to the bloc and Transparency International warned about millionaire tax evaders – the Anastasiades government dismissed it as  “jealous foreigners interfering”.

Reckoning

With so many attracted by the sound of money in the tumble drier, nobody could hear the alarm bells of a reckoning.

Because the authorities didn’t take the issue seriously as too many of the elite class had their noses in the Russian trough – the global media decided to bang some heads.

Al Jazeera did its passport sting in trapping two politicians, while another wider probe of leaked documents called the Panama Papers caught Cyprus in its snare.

More recently, the US and Britain placed Cyprus-based individuals and companies on a sanctions list for enabling Russian oligarchs to bypass sanctions on Moscow over Ukraine.

This couldn’t be dismissed with a shrug of the shoulders, as in the past, the government had to read the script and convince the audience.

Our new best friends, the Americans, were not going to let this slide; the island’s default Russia-friendly approach was recalibrated.

There was a time when cash-strapped Nicosia had only Russia to borrow from to keep it warm at night – those days are gone.

There will be no more stopovers for Russian naval ships, passports, shell companies, and no more looking the other way and taking bribes.

The Cyprus Confidential probe of leaked documents from the 1990s to April 2022 – pre-dates the new government.

As the previous administration of Anastasiades failed to act decisively during his 10-year tenure, the Christodoulides government is taking the flak.

Even if the stories are from our forgettable past, the mud sticks and honest businesses have to carry the shame of the few.

Nothing happens in a vacuum, and now that our card is marked, we must behave as if newly converted to cash in plastic bags is no longer king society.

Arguably, Cyprus Confidential didn’t unravel too many unpalatable shenanigans.

Especially as it involved 270 journalists and 69 media partners across 54 countries to delve into 3.6 million leaked documents.

According to the  International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Cyprus has an “outsized financial sector and some of the EU’s most lax financial disclosure laws, making it an ideal destination for stashing wealth”.

Something to mention to your bank manager when they refuse to give you a loan or open a bank account.

Unless you’re a Russian oligarch, of course (yawn)…