Cyprus to cancel 26 ‘golden’ passports
Almost 2,000 people have taken advantage of the Cypriot scheme, which was launched in 2013 after Nicosia’s financial crisis hit. It has attracted about €7 billion in investment.
Some observers have warned that the scheme offers a back door into the European Union for people who might otherwise be denied entry.
The republic was left red-faced last month by a list of Cambodian beneficiaries, including Phnom Penh’s police chief and finance minister.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has previously denied opposition allegations that members of his inner circle had foreign passports.
Campaigners say the programmes’ guarantee of anonymity is a flaw and are calling for the European Union to introduce tighter regulations.
“As countless investigations have shown ‘golden visa’ schemes are favoured by those with something to hide,” said Tina Mlinaric of Global Witness, an anti-corruption organisation. “Adding anonymity on top of the ability to buy citizenship, with few questions asked, only makes it easier for the criminal and corrupt to get away with their crimes and enjoy safe haven with their ill-gotten gains.”
Fugitive Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, who is accused of stealing several billion dollars from Malaysia’s 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) sovereign wealth fund, is among those who will be stripped of his advice Cypriot citizenship.
Low received his Cypriot passport in 2015, according to Politis.
It was issued after Malaysia had revoked his passport and issued an arrest warrant.
The US Department of Justice has said Low and his associates stole US$4.5 billion from 1MDB, which was set up in 2009 by then prime minister, Najib Razak, who is currently on trial.
The Cypriot cabinet met for four hours while discussing the issue.
“The council of ministers affirmed the will of the government for strict adherence to the terms and conditions of the Cyprus investment programme,” said the Cyprus interior minister, Constantinos Petrides.
He said it “also concerned those” whose names were mentioned in media reports.
The list reportedly includes nine Russians, eight Cambodians, five Chinese nationals, two Kenyans, one Malaysian and one Iranian.
The passports are purportedly linked to nine investment projects, where overseas investors in partnership benefited from the policy.
Cyprus has had a citizenship-for-investment scheme in place since 2013 where at least €2 million in investment can buy a European Union passport.
Pamphlets resembling passports used to be available to visitors at the main Cypriot airport.
In the first five years of the citizenship programme until last year, the republic approved 1,864 citizenship applications. When family members are included, the number was more than 3,200 and currently approaches 4,000.
“If there were nine investment cases, concerning 26 people, among 4,000 applications, it is logical that some would be problematic when controls weren’t strict,” Petrides said. “There were mistakes – it was a mistake not to have criteria, for instance, for high-risk people.”
Cyprus has always attracted foreigners. Picture credit: NeedPix