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Politics

Caught in Golden Visa Sting, Cyprus’ Parliament Speaker Steps Aside

The fallout from an Al Jazeera report and video said to show politicians and businessmen eager to sell Golden Visas to rich foreigners on Cyprus has seen Parliament Speaker Demetris Syllouris, who was implicated, suspend himself.

Syllouris, the second-highest ranking official in the government, a member of the European Union, said he would abstain from duties until Oct. 19 to give an investigation a chance to begin, said Reuters.

And lawmaker Christakis Giovanis immediately resigned after he was caught red-handed on the secret video with an undercover agent from the news site jumping at the chance to help someone he thought was a criminal get a visa.

The Golden Visas come with residency permits and European Union passports that are much sought after but the government immediately ended the scheme that critics said was open to money laundering and criminal activity too.

Al Jazeera’s The Cyprus Papers Undercover investigation that was broadcast showed Giovanis was willing to help a convicted money launderer obtain a passport, even though a criminal conviction should disqualify an applicant.

“I submit my resignation as AKEL MP. I also submit my resignation as a member of the central AKEL committee and all other positions in the party,” Giovani’s statement read, said the news site.

Cypriot Attorney General George Savvidis said he would investigate for possible criminal offenses in a program that President Nicos Anastasiades had staunchly defended, saying other countries were even worse.

“What has been published in the last few hours by the Al Jazeera news network is causing outrage, anger and concern among the people,” his statement read.

“I want to assure you that I will do whatever is deemed necessary under the circumstances, always with the aim of safeguarding the public interest,” he added.

The Cyprus Papers Undercover also showed the willingness of Syllouris to aid and abet convicted criminals to obtain a passport through the Citizenship Investment Program (CIP) reported Al Jazeera.

The visas are for sale for a minimum investment of $2.5 million but there's been no reports where the money goes, the lucrative scheme bringing in some 7 billion euros ($8.21 billion) since it was started.

The European Commission said it “watched in disbelief how high-level officials were trading European citizenship for financial gains.”

“The Commission is currently looking at compliance with EU law of the Cypriot scheme in view of possible infringement proceedings,” it added.

In August, Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit revealed that over previous years, Cyprus had granted passports to criminals convicted in their home countries and people wanted by Interpol.

Those featured in the investigation, including Syllouris and Christakis, have all denied wrongdoing and referred to a report filed with Cyprus’s anti-money laundering unit.

They also said their dealings with our undercover journalists were intended to gather information to support a report to the authorities without “tipping them off,” claiming they were aware of what was going on and played along.

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