Cyprus’ much-criticized Golden Visa program offering residency permits and EuropeanUnion passports to wealthy foreigners came under fire anew when an opposition lawmaker demanded to know why relatives and allies of Cambodia’s leader were able to acquire them.
Irene Charalambides, who is also a special representative on fighting corruption for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, issued a scathing post on social media saying the disclosure made Cyprus the object of international “ridicule,” said Reuters, which was first to report the story.
“Where does the issuance of passports stop? Until when will we stop apologizing internationally? Finally, there is a fire with the smoke,” the MP for the left-wing AKEL party wrote in a Facebook posting. “This is an international ridicule, which is not covered by any justification,” she wrote.
A Reuters investigation revealed that family members and allies of Cambodia’s long-time prime minister, Hun Sen, have overseas assets worth tens of millions of dollars, and used their wealth to buy foreign citizenship – a practice Hun Sen has decried as unpatriotic.
Eight family members or allies – including the country’s police chief who has been instrumental in clamping down on dissent in Cambodia, and its finance minister – sought and received Cypriot citizenship in 2016 and 2017, Reuters reporting showed.
Since the inception of the citizenship scheme in 2013, and until 2018, the Cypriot government had approved 1,864 applications but without, said critics, properly vetting them to make sure they aren’t being used for money laundering or criminal activity.
The European Commission warned in a January report that what it called “golden passports” could help organized crime groups infiltrate Europe and raised the risk of money laundering, corruption and tax evasion.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades defended the practice and said other countries have problems too but his office would not respond initially to Reuters although after it was reported a
spokesman said the citizenship program was “absolutely credible and transparent” while declining to discuss any individual cases.