After reports that Cyprus was selling Golden Visas that came with European Union passports to wealthy relatives and allies of Cambodian Premir Hun Sen among others, with critics saying the program isn’t properly vetted for money laundering and criminal activity, Finance Minister Haris Georgiades acknowledged mistakes were made.
That came after the government had strongly defended its program to sell residency permits to rich foreigners with President Nicos Anastasiades saying other EU countries had even worse records, and as bloc officials said the Golden Visa programs could be subject to misuse.
“We have to acknowledge that in the early years mistakes were made. Isolated albeit, but not insignificant,” Georgiades told a business conference in Nicosia, said Reuters, which first reported the sales that triggered a backfire.
“Substantive corrective measures related to the program have come into effect since the beginning of this year,” he said without revealing what they were and after the government said the visas and residency permits could be withdrawn if they were found to have been given to people who weren’t eligible.
Local media have subsequently reported on other beneficiaries of the scheme that benefited more than 3,200 investors and family members between 2013 and 2018, the news agency said and the newspaper Politis published an image of what it said was a Cypriot passport given to Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho, who is accused of a multi-billion dollar theft from a state fund. He has denied wrongdoing and his location is unknown.
The Cypriot program began in 2013 and gives residency and EU passports to rich people who invest at least 2-million euros ($2.22 million) and get visa-free travel in the 28-country bloc while even those with Cypriot heritage in the Diaspora have to wait.
Reuters’ disclosures triggered demands from Cypriot opposition parties for some real answers. The main AKEL opposition party repeatedly asked how passports could be given to individuals “who probably couldn’t find Cyprus on the map.”