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Rich Russians Jetted to Cyprus During COVID-19 Lockdown

Αssociated Press

In this photo taken on Sunday, May 10, 2020, a swimmer bathes in the sea off an empty stretch of "Adams" beach in Ayia Napa, Cyprus a seaside resort that s popular with tourists from Europe and beyond. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

With the money to do it, wealthy Russians who wanted to get out of their hard-hit country during the still ongoing COVID-19 pandemic took private jets to Cyprus, which had a better record dealing with the health crisis and has a heavy Russian influence.

Some private jet companies told the news agency Reuters they had seen a demand from Russia's rich who wanted to be on the island but couldn't take commercial flights with international air traffic curtailed.

Passengers have been heading for countries such as Britain and Cyprus, where they own property, have residency rights, sometimes thanks to having dual nationality, or have close relatives, industry sources not named told the news agency.

Cyprus will not reveal the names of rich foreigners who buy Golden Visas giving them residency permits and European Union passports but the majority are Chinese and Russian. Since 2013, Cyprus has sold passports to approximately 4,000 foreign nationals, raising more than seven billion euros, according to a recent report by anti-corruption NGO Global Witness.

The European Union has criticized the Golden Visa program for letting people pay their way into the bloc with inadequate vetting and little transparency. The Council of Europe’s anti-money laundering agency, Moneyval, has called Cyprus’s program “inherently vulnerable to abuse.”

Cyprus grants citizenship to almost anyone who has a clean criminal record and big money to invest. Between January 2013 and August 2019, only 56 of 2,700 applicants were rejected, according to official data cited by the news website Kathimerini.

The Russians allowed to jet in on private flights while others were barred because commercial flights weren't allowed when the airport was shut paid between 16,000-25,000 euros ($17,768-$27,762) per flights, enough to otherwise pay for 13 private passengers, Reuters said.

Jet Partners, which offers private jet flights, said it had an an increase in requests for destinations in France, Spain, Cyprus, Britain and other European countries.

“People believe that it is safer for them to be at their private residences abroad,” said Margarita Lomakina, the company’s Commercial Director, a luxury afforded the rich who can get around lockdown rules anywhere.