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Cyprus abolishes citizenship through investment programme

The move comes after an investigation showed that politicians were willing to issue passports to convicted criminals.

Cyprus abolishes citizenship through investment programme www.theafricanstand.com


Cyprus has announced it will abolish a controversial passport scheme following the release of an investigation by Al Jazeera that implicated high-ranking politicians who were willing to issue passports to convicted criminals.

The Ministries of Interior and Finance said in a statement posted in Greek on Twitter that the citizenship through investment programme in its current form will be abolished from November 1.

“The proposal was based on the timeless weaknesses but also on the abusive exploitation of the provisions of the program,” the tweet said.

On Monday, Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit released The Cyprus Papers Undercover, which showed the willingness of parliament speaker, Demetris Syllouris, and member of parliament, Christakis Giovanis (also known as Giovani in Cyprus), to aid and abet convicted criminals to obtain a passport through the Citizenship Investment Programme (CIP).

The investigation came weeks after Al Jazeera also released The Cyprus Papers, a cache of almost 1,400 documents showing Cyprus had granted passports to criminals, people wanted by Interpol in the previous years.

Following Tuesday’s announcement by the Cypriot government, Syllouris said he would abstain from duties until any investigation by the government was completed.

Politicians implicated

By investing at least $2.5m into its economy, usually done through real estate, anyone can obtain a Cypriot passport.

The programme has regularly been criticised by the European Union and anti-corruption NGOs, who claim it would increase the risk of money laundering through Europe’s financial institutions.

Using undercover operatives called Billy Lee and Angie, Al Jazeera’s reporters, pretended to represent Chinese businessmen convicted for money laundering, which would disqualify the applicant under Cyprus’ rules.

However, time and again they were told that the sentence would not be a problem as long as enough money was invested.

MP Christakis Giovani, also one of the island’s most prominent real estate developers, told the reports he would do everything he could to get the deal done.

“It’s not easy. But I can promise, we shall do the best. And I believe we have the experience,” Giovani said.

Parliamentary speaker Demetris Syllouris went even further, saying: “You can tell him that he will have, without mentioning my name or anybody else’s, full support from Cyprus. At any level – political, economic, social, everything – ok.”

These sentiments were echoed by several others, including a lawyer who said that it would even be possible to change the name on the passport, effectively changing the identity of the applicant.

EU criticism

After Monday’s revelations, several members of the European Parliament repeated their criticism of the programme.

“This film fully exposes the “citizenship by investment’ schemes for what they really are: a cover operation for bringing criminals and criminal money into the EU,” MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld told Al Jazeera.

“Today we have therefore renewed our call on the European Commission to not only take legal action against Cyprus but submit a legislative proposal banning the practice altogether,” she added.

“If this film is not enough evidence for the need for a legal ban, then what is?”

Her comments were echoed by her colleague Sven Giegold, who said “it is key that the EU takes over and that this means that the resident programme and the investment programme have to be ended.”

“What is so shocking about these pictures is how natural it seems. This was not a one case accident, it seems structural,” he added.

“This needs a treaty violation procedure by the European Commission.”

The Cyprus Papers

Monday’s investigation came weeks after Al Jazeera also released The Cyprus Papers, a cache of almost 1,400 documents showing Cyprus had granted passports to criminals and people wanted by Interpol in the previous years.

After that release, Cyprus defended its programme, saying there had been several mistakes in recent years but the tightening of laws and applicants’ background checks were sufficient to stop criminals from obtaining a passport.

However, in an internal audit released late September, the country’s audit office found several weaknesses in the scheme, including 23 applications that were fast-tracked by the Minister of Interior and the ease with which family members could apply for a passport.

Source: Al Jazeera

Hassan Juma

Written by Hassan Juma

Hassan Juma is an international reporter who graduated with a degree from The United States International University where he majored in Journalism and International Relations and he is currently working for African Stand as a senior reporter covering the Middle East, US, Asia, and Europe.

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