NICOSIA- After admitting there were flaws in the so-called Golden Visa program that let rich foreigners buy residency permits and European Union passports without being property vetted – leading to 26 being removed – Cypriot Interior Minister Constantinos Petrides said it could have allowed high-risk people to benefit.
In an interview with the Greek newspaper Kathemerini, he said Malaysian businessman Jho Taek Low – one of those whose visa was stripped – would not have been given a passport under today’s criteria despite reports it was still too lenient now.
Earlier this year the government introduced stricter eligibility criteria including for ‘”n advance exclusion” – to reject those found to have been involved in serious criminal offenses, or even reportedly, without having been found guilty.
“They may eventually be proven to be innocent, but they are considered high-risk,” Petrides said as the government of President Nicos Anastasiades has scrambled to undo damage caused by a Reuters report that Cyprus was selling Golden Visas to wealthy relatives and allies of Cambodian Premier Hun Sen among others.
Low came to Cyprus in September 2015 and obtained a passport under the citizenship by investment scheme within two days after investing in some property in the Famagusta district, the Cyprus Mail report although he since has been implicated in a scandal at 1MDB, which US and Malaysian prosecutors say was used to siphon out hundreds of millions of dollars.
He deposited more than 5 million euros ($5.52 million) in a Cypriot bank in June, 2015, the paper said although a due diligence test reportedly found he had problems in four of the 14 risk headings investigated and there were a number of risk factors associated with him.
The newspaper Politis, that published a picture of his passport, also reported that Low’s girlfriend had also applied for a Cypriot passport but the application was rejected.
In September 2015, Archbishop Chrysostomos II reportedly sent a letter to former Interior Minister Socrates Hasikos, urging him to look favourably upon Low’s application after the businessman donated 300,000 euros ($331,022) to a theological school when he visited Cyprus.
Speaking to Kathemerini, the Archbishop said while errors were made in the Golden Visa program because of greed that it shouldn’t be shut down and that the mistakes were “not the end of the world,” although EU officials said it could have allowed criminal elements into the bloc.
He also said the 300,000 would be returned if it was shown not to be clean and used to launder money but he said he was satisfied there was no wrongdong. “He offered a donation, we accepted, the matter is closed,” the Archbishop said without saying whether his request for Low to get the visa was a quid pro quo for the money
Politis reported that in addition to the 300,000-euro check given to the Archbishop for the theology school, Low had also given him a second check for 10,000 euros ($11,034) without indicating what it was used for.