Cyprus Ends ‘Golden Passport’ Program Amid Corruption Accusations

Cyprus Ends ‘Golden Passport’ Program Amid Corruption Accusations

The small Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus has given citizenship and passports to greater than 3,000 foreigners who agreed to speculate a minimum of $2 million within the nation — a “golden passport” that allowed the holders to journey visa-free all through the European Union.

However this week Cyprus introduced that it’s ending the initiative after an undercover investigation by journalists appeared to indicate two lawmakers serving to to rearrange a passport for a fictitious businessman, regardless of being informed he had a prison file.

A type of lawmakers, Demetris Syllouris, the president of Parliament and the nation’s second strongest official, resigned on Thursday. The opposite, Christakis Giovanis, resigned on Tuesday, and each males have denied any wrongdoing.

Cyprus was solely considered one of a number of European international locations that turned to providing what turned extensively generally known as “golden passports” to draw investments after their economies had been crippled within the international financial downturn that started in 2008. Within the final seven years, Cyprus has raised over 6 billion euros via this system — about $7 billion {dollars}.

However a few of the passport packages at the moment are seen as gateways for crime and corruption, and a menace to the integrity of the European Union, since such passports grant the suitable to journey to the union’s 27 member international locations. The European Fee, the chief arm of the European Union, has mentioned that packages in Bulgaria, Cyprus and Malta are at explicit danger for corruption.

The Fee is contemplating doable authorized motion in opposition to Cyprus over the matter, mentioned Christian Wigand, a Fee spokesman.

He mentioned that European officers had “watched in disbelief” because the undercover investigation, produced by Al Jazeera and made public on Monday, purported to indicate high-level Cypriot officers prepared to commerce European citizenship for monetary achieve.

“European values usually are not on the market,” mentioned Mr. Wigand, repeating an announcement made by the Fee’s president, Ursula von der Leyen, in her State of the Union handle final month.

The passport program bars anybody with a prison file from making use of. However Mr. Syllouris and Mr. Giovanis, had been filmed saying that they’d assist receive a passport for a rich Chinese language businessman — who, they had been informed, had fled China after being sentenced to seven years in jail on costs of bribery and cash laundering.

“If there’s a downside, we aren’t going to cease,” Mr. Syllouris mentioned within the footage aired by Al Jazeera. “You’ll have full help from Cyprus.”

One other affiliate is proven within the video saying it was doable to make use of a faux identify on the passport.

Cyprus’s lawyer basic, George Savvidis, mentioned the authorities would conduct an investigation to find out whether or not any prison acts had been concerned.

Each lawmakers rejected the allegations of corruption, saying that that they had truly been gathering proof to relay to the authorities that combat cash laundering. Mr. Giovanis additionally mentioned that the state of affairs was staged, and that he was entrapped into making the statements. Al Jazeera reporters posed as associates of the businessman.

Cyprus’ ministry of finance mentioned the nation had granted greater than 3,000 visas to candidates who invested two million Euros — or about $2.34 million {dollars}. The federal government mentioned in a Twitter publish on Tuesday that it’ll finish this system on Nov. 1, citing ongoing weaknesses and exploitation of this system.

This isn’t the primary report by Al Jazeera in regards to the passport initiative. In August, leaked paperwork obtained by its journalists indicated that a minimum of 60 individuals authorized for Cypriot citizenship ought to have been rejected beneath tighter guidelines that had been launched in 2019 however then eased this yr.

In September, the federal government introduced that it was reviewing foreigners who obtained citizenship via this system. Lots of the passports have gone to Russian, Ukrainian and Chinese language traders.

Cyprus additionally revoked the passports of 26 individuals final yr after Reuters reported that new residents beneath this system included high-ranking Cambodian officers and shut associates of the Cambodia’s prime minister, Hun Sen. The chief has denied accusations that members of his internal circle have second passports that permit them to stay abroad.

Activists who work to combat corruption welcomed the top of Cyprus’s program. They mentioned the European Union wanted to control such initiatives extra strictly, if not repeal them fully. The Cypriot authorities has not dominated out making modifications and reinstating this system.

Maíra Martini, a analysis and coverage skilled at Transparency Worldwide, mentioned in an announcement {that a} full evaluation of passports awarded beneath the initiative was wanted.

“The overwhelming proof is that the nation’s ‘golden visa’ scheme serves corrupt pursuits, not the individuals of Cyprus,” she mentioned.

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