NICOSIA – With yet another report that the Greek-Cypriot side of the island that’s a member of the European Union is hiding money from rich Russians – this time those wanting to avoid sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine – the government said it would move against violators after denying there was a problem.
Leaked documents showed that 67 Russian billionaires are tucking their fortunes away on Cyprus – long known as a tax haven for the rich – to avoid international sanctions, the island’s banks long used by wealthy Russians to hide cash.
An investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ,) Paper Trail Media and 67 media partners said Cyprus – not including the Turkish-Cypriot occupied side – “plays an even bigger role than was commonly known in moving dirty money for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s autocratic regime and other brutal dictators and anti-democratic actors.”
After the report, Cyprus said it would tighten controls on its financial sector, said the British newspaper The Guardian, which took part in the probe built on a leaked cache of 3.6 million files.
Those were sent to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and Germany’s Paper Trail Media, which shared access with the Guardian and other reporting partners.
It showed offshore entities managed by accountants and corporate service on Cyprus “may have enabled undisclosed payments to an influential western journalist, and potential breaches of rules around football club financing.”
In response, the government of President Nikos Christodoulides, who took power early in 2023, promised measures to root out sanctions violations after saying it had adhered to practices designed to prevent them.
A spokesperson, Konstantinos Letymbiotis, said Cyprus was receiving technical support from the British to create a sanctions implementation unit next year and plans on how its authorities investigate and prosecute financial crime. It has also joined an EU cross-border project on making sanctions effective.
Christodoulides, the Attorney-General, key cabinet members and officials were briefed at a high-level meeting over the country’s progress on implementing tighter controls, the paper said.
Letymbiotis said: “The strategy of our government … is of zero tolerance on matters concerning sanctions evasion and law violation, and by extension, to safeguard the country’s name as a reliable financial center.”
He added: “I would like to stress that our government is unequivocally committed to fighting corruption and illicit finance and take all necessary actions to ensure full implementation of EU sanctions.”