NICOSIA – After defending a Golden Visa program that sold Cypriot residency and passports to rich foreigners that turned out to be riddled with corruption, President Nicos Anastasiades said he will produce a program to stop it.
Government spokesman Kyriako Koushios said that would come in a TV address to the country, just before Transparency International said the country’s record in dealing with corruption had gotten worse.
Koushios dismissed criticism from the opposition Diko party that the government wanted to avoid transparency on the now defunct golden passports program that was stopped after media reports exposed wrongdoing.
He also said a committee investigating corruption in the awarding of visas to people with criminal records and backgrounds in a scheme the European Union said was open to money laundering would place blame.
He didn’t mention that Anastasiades’ law firm and his family were conduits for selling the visas although President had stepped away from its dealings after taking office.
Diko said the government’s refusal to hand over all the files relating to Cyprus’ passport-by-investment scheme to the Auditor-General suggested it was covering up, reported The Cyprus Mail.
“We recall that the committee of inquiry, which has been given very wide authority, is made up of four distinguished personalities of recognised reputation. A minimum of respect for the committee and its work, as well as to the conclusions it will reach, require that comments and allegations should be avoided,” Koushios said.
The four-member panel will hear three witnesses, starting with Archbishop Chrysostomos, then the President of the Cyprus Bar Association Christos Clerides and the Director of the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Cyprus Kyriako Iordanous.
Archbishop Chrysostomos’ testimony is expected to center on fugitive Malaysian businessman Jho Low, who bought a villa built on land owned by the church as part of the process of obtaining a Cypriot passport, the paper said.
He told reporters that the donation made by Low to the theological school had not been spent and he would happily return it to Malaysia if the request is made, claiming the case was “very clean,” although he backed Low’s request for a visa after getting the donatoin.
Clerides told Alpha TV the Bar Association has been looking into whether any of its members were involved and had received an unredacted report as well as two probes by the auditor general.
A probe into one law firm has been completed but further investigations were suspended during a second COVID-19 lockdown limiting how many people can be in an office at the same time.
Clerides said about 200 law firms and administrative companies had been involved in the visa program, of which 140 handled fewer than 10 citizenships, 35 handled up to 50 and 10 worked on more than 50 although it wasn’t said how many Anastasiades’ firm had done.
He said he was certain the majority of lawyers had complied with the rules, although at first sight there are also indications of irregularities without saying what they were or how serious.
He then appeared to contradict himself by adding that disciplinary proceedings were pending, as were procedures regarding compliance with anti-money laundering rules he would not clarify.
Cyprus fell nine places to 42nd Transparency International’s 2020 Global Perception Index for corruption, it was reported, continuing to fall under Anastasiades’ administration since 2013.
The EU’s new public prosecutor’s office said that about 10 percent of all pending fraud cases against the EU budget are linked to Cyprus, the report coming from the chief prosecutor, Laura Codruta Kovesi.
That led to Attorney-General Giorgos Savvides complaining in a statement that the figures did not “appear to be consistent with the information we have in our possession,” based on reports from other EU members.