NICOSIA – A disgraced scheme that sold Cypriot residency permits and passports to rich foreign investors without properly vetting them for criminal activity will see politicians and a lawyer go on trial in October over it.
They were exposed by a sting operation run by the news site Al Jazeera and made President Nicos Anastasiades, who had staunchly defended the sale of the passports, end the program.
Nicosia Criminal Court officials said the trial of former parliament speaker Demetris Syllouris, ex-lawmaker Christakis Giovani, a senior manager of his real estate firm, Antonis Antoniou, and lawyer Andreas Pittadjis would begin Oct. 26.
The charges against the four men include conspiracy to subvert the country, Republic, bribery and corruption, said the official Cyprus News Agency.
They were released on conditional bail ranging from 30,000-50,000 euros ($30,472-$50,787) , the report said.
In August 2020, Al Jazeera charged that high-ranking officials were ready to help a fictitious Chinese investor with a criminal past obtain a Cyprus passport through investment.
Syllouris and opposition Communist party AKEL MP Giovani were secretly filmed trying to facilitate a passport for the fugitive investor and also featured in the secret video were Pittadjis and others linked to Giovani’s property development company.
Syllouris – who was the second-highest ranking public figure in the country behind Anastasiades – and Giovani later resigned, although both insisted they were innocent of any wrongdoing, saying the videos had been illegally recorded, said Agence France-Presse.
The aftermath led the government to set up a public inquiry panel led by former judge Myron Nicolatos and form an anti-corruption agency whose critics said had limited and diluted powers.
The inquiry found the government broke the law countless times to grant citizenship to over 6,700 people from 2007-20 and that 53 percent of the 6,779 passports granted were done so illegally because of a lack of due diligence or background checks.
But Anastasiades, whose family’s law firm helped process applications although he was not involved, emerged unscathed and untouched by the scandal that reverberated to the European Union headquarters in Brussels.
A member of the EU, Cyprus began offering citizenship in exchange for substantial investment as early as 2007 and stepped up the scheme after a 2013 economic crisis that saw Anastasiades break vows not to let banks confiscate depositors monies, without accountability.
Al Jazeera had reported that dozens of those who applied for the permits and passports were under criminal investigation, international sanctions, or serving prison sentences and the program cited for being open to money laundering.
Applicants had to make at least 2.5 million euros ($2.46 million) in investments but despite being a public program, they weren’t identified except by media reports and there’s been no accounting where the money went.