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After Backlash, Cyprus Probes Citizenship for Cambodian Elite

October 23, 2019

Its lenient Golden Visa program under fire, Cyprus will investigate how relatives of Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen were able to buy citizenship and take away their European Union passports if necessary, officials said.

A Reuters investigation earlier found that family members and allies of Sen, have overseas assets worth tens of millions of dollars and have used their wealth to buy foreign citizenship, although he had said that was an unpatriotic act.

– a practice Hun Sen has decried as unpatriotic.

Cyprus government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou said the government would review citizenship granted to eight relatives and persons close to the Camodian leaders, the news agency added in a follow-up.

“An investigation will take place for these cases, and if anything untoward is established decisions will be taken, not excluding revoking citizenship, if that is warranted,” Prodromou told journalists after a cabinet meeting.

Cyprus has had a residency-for-sale investment plan in place since 2013, under which a minimum 2-million-euro ($2.2 million) investment can buy a passport and visa-free travel throughout the EU but it has been criticized for not properly vetting applicants for money laundering or criminal activity being hidden under that guise.

The eight relatives or allies or Hun Sen given Cypriot passport include Cambodia’s Police Chief, who has clamped down on anti-government dissent, and its finance minister – who sought Cypriot citizenship in 2016 and 2017, Reuters reporting showed.

One relative obtained citizenship because she was deemed “financially dependent” on her mother, only months after spending £5.5 million ($7.09 million on a London apartment with no explanation from the government or Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades who had defended the Golden Visas by saying other countries were just as lenient.

Hun Sen had previously denied claims from the opposition that members of his inner circle had passports from third countries to live the good life abroad and Reuters’ disclosures triggered demands from Cypriot opposition parties for answers, with one party questioning how passports could be given to individuals “who probably couldn’t find Cyprus on the map”.

The Cypriot government had repeatedly declined to comment on individual cases, citing data protection laws and Cypriot media had cited sources saying there was no question of revoking citizenship even if there were findings the passports were obtained under false pretenses.

Prodromou referred to naturalizations which had been the subject of recent media reports and said they “had been given based on regulations of the past before today’s stricter controls and limitations were enforced,” without explaining why they are being probed then.

In the five years between the inception of the citizenship scheme and 2018, the Cypriot government approved 1,864 citizenship applications. Including family members, the number was more than 3,200, the news agency said.

The European Commission warned in a January report that what it called “golden passports” could help organized crime groups infiltrate Europe and raised the risk of money laundering, corruption and tax evasion.

Irene Charalambides, a Cypriot lawmaker for the left-wing AKEL party and a special representative on fighting corruption for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, issued a scathing post on social media saying the disclosure made Cyprus the object of international “ridicule,” demanding answers.

“Where does the issuance of passports stop? Until when will we stop apologizing internationally? Finally, there is a fire with the smoke,” the MP for the left-wing AKEL party wrote in a Facebook posting. “This is an international ridicule, which is not covered by any justification,” she wrote.

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