Anastasiades Defends Cyprus Golden Visas for Wealthy Foreigners

FILE - An aircraft takes off from Larnaca airport past the control tower, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017, at the southern coastal city of Larnaca, Cyprus. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

Dismissing criticism his country is selling Golden Visas to rich foreigners, without vetting them for money laundering and other crimes, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said the finger should be pointed at other countries for doing the same.

The program lets wealthy investors from other countries have residency permits allowing travel within the European Union of which Cyprus is a member but which the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said are being used for criminal means, including tax evasion as the country is fighting a reputation for being a tax hideout haven.

“It cannot be that Cyprus is being targeted, with this criticism being echoed by certain advocates within Cyprus for political expediencies,” Anastasiades said in an interview with TV One channel.

“There was much clamoring for publishing the lists of the providers, and they were given. And where was all the attention focused? On my former law firm,” he said.

He said of the thousands of applications for the citizenship-by-investment program filed by various companies and law firms on behalf of foreign nationals, only 41 were filed by the former firm which nears his name.

“I told the [Interior) Minister to release the data … so that we can finish with this story. And I cannot abide insinuations when these are unjustified. Instead of appreciating the benefits to the country’s economy, we are looking to target political personalities or politically exposed persons, regardless whether this serves the interests of people who write for the Guardian or other newspapers accusing the Republic of Cyprus.”

That was in reference to the British newspaper and other media reporting on potential abuses in the visa program where questions where also raised in the European Parliament by Romanian MEP Victor Bostinaru, whose country’s government faces accusations of being overtly corrupt .

Addressing Anastasiades, Bostinaru said: “And I think that, looking at the composition of the ones benefiting from this program, you should work on lowering down [sic] and stop it. And this is not to intervene in any way in your internal decisions,” the Cyprus Mail said.

In his answer, Anastasiades stated: “There is an intense targeting of Cyprus from certain quarters. The total citizenships granted via the scheme from 2013 to August 2018 did not exceed 4,700. This represents just 0.3 per cent of the total citizenships granted by other EU member states.”

He added: “I hear some saying that you [Cyprus] are allowing some people to acquire Cypriot citizenship at the expense – supposedly – of the security of the EU. But in Cyprus there has never been any act of terrorism. It is not in my country that acts of terrorism occur.

“It is not in my country where most football clubs belong to oligarchs of other countries, non-EU countries. Or that landmarks and large buildings and real estate have come into the hands of either Russian oligarchs or Arab oligarchs or others. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

“But,” Anastasiades went on, “you cannot single out a small country for granting 0.3 per cent of total citizenships granted by all other EU countries. And I do not wish to reference how many tens of thousands of citizenships have been granted by various other countries. I will leave it at that.”

Cyprus and Malta, where a journalist investigating corruption and money laundering was murdered, were the only European Union countries on an OECD black list. The OECD analyzed more than 100 residence and citizenship by investment (CBI/RBI) schemes offered by all jurisdictions committed to the OECD/G20 Common Reporting Standard (CRS).

Cyprus offers two types of schemes: citizenship by investment, naturalization of investors by and residence by investment.

According to the OECD the schemes offered by Cyprus and 20 other countries “potentially pose a high-risk to the integrity of CRS.”

“Potentially high-risk CBI/RBI schemes are those that give access to a low personal tax rate on income from foreign financial assets and do not require an individual to spend a significant amount of time in the jurisdiction offering the scheme,” the report said.

A Transparency International report earlier said that, “Cyprus’ passports-for-sale scheme is the most prolific of its kind in Europe, with 3,300 foreign nationals having secured EU passports since 2013,” earning the country some 4.8 billion euros ($5.5 billion).

In July, there was a warning that wealthy foreigners who can buy so-called Golden Visas to get residency permits in Cyprus – without living there but able to reside in other European Union countries – could find themselves in a bind if the government decides to grant companies or individuals selling investments the right to operate as licensed advisers