The coming end of Cyprus' Golden Visa program that sold residency permits and citizenship to people who media reports tied to money laundering and criminal activity set off anti-corruption protests but angered President Nicos Anastasiades, who had defended it to the hilt.
That stopped after an undercover video by the news site Al Jazeera using an operative posing as a Chinese investor with a criminal record showed Parliament Speaker Demetris Syllouris and lawmaker Christakis Giovanis offering to help.
Al Jazeera said when Anastasiades was caught on camera, telling journalists not to ask him questions about the scandal he said, “Don’t mention Al Jazeera to me, so the devil will not take you.”
But on the video with reporters he is heard clearly telling them not push him over the report, his family's law office providing legal services for applicants and his son-in-law helping them buy properties.
"If anyone mentions Al Jazeera to me …will go to hell," he says on camera, turning away from the reporters, appearing openly upset an assistant later said thathe was only kidding, despite the seriousness of the apparent corruption.
The program won't cease, however, until Nov. 1 and is being advertised on line as a last chance opportunity for rich foreigners to buy the permits and citizenship that come with valued European Union passports for a minimum investment equivalent to $2.5 million.
The revelation led to protests by hundreds of people in the capital Nicosia as an investigation had yet to begin despite the sting video implicating Syllouris, who stepped down, and Giovanis.
Both later claimed they knew they were being played in a journalistic undercover operation and were actually trying to get incriminating evidence to deliver to the country's anti-money laundering agency without telling police.
Reporting from Nicosia, Al Jazeera’s David Harrison said the protesters chanted slogans demanding resignations. “[They say] they’re sick of corruption,” Harrison said. “They want a cleaner Cyprus, they want these people out.”
Alexandra Attalides, the organizer of the protests held Oct. 14 after the news of the video broke told the news sites, “Wee want a criminal investigation and … we want to show to all abroad that not all Cypriots are corrupt.”
“We want those who took advantage of their public position to make money out of this program, we want them to answer to the Cypriot people that they dragged into this situation.”
Also attending the protest was former European Union Commissioner Androulla Vassileiou, who said she felt ashamed of what was happening. “I’m not here in an official capacity but as a citizen who has lived better times in the past.
“These people are politicians who are supposed to serve their country. These people who are responsible should resign.”
The investigation into the sale of Cypriot passports showed how the citizenship through investment program could possibly be abused by criminals, as long as enough money was invested.
Dutch Member of European Parliament Sophie in ‘t Veld told Al Jazeera that the video “fully exposes the ‘citizenship by investment’ schemes for what they really are: a cover operation for bringing criminals and criminal money into the EU.”
The government earlier revoked 29 visas after a Reuters report also alleged the program wasn't vetting applicants for criminal activity, including a Malaysian fugitive tied to a notorious money laundering operation there.