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Politics

Cypriot Politicians Charged with Corruption in Passport Scheme

NICOSIA – The former president of the Cypriot Parliament and an ex-lawmaker were among four people charged with corruption in cash-for-passports scandal that was uncovered by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit in a sting operation.

Despite the public nature of the accusations, officials in President Nicos Anastasiades’ government refused to name them, as it had kept secret the names of wealthy foreigners buying residency permits and EU passports.

But the news site said legal sources it didn’t name identified them as former Parliament President Demetris Syllouris; former Member of Parliament

Christakis Giovani, who is a property developer; Antonis Antoniou, Executive Director of the real estate company Giovani Group, and lawyer Andreas Pittadjis.

The passports scandal was exposed in an Al Jazeera documentary, The Cyprus Papers Undercover, released in October 2020, drawing more heat for the discredited passports scheme that didn’t vet applicants for criminal activity or money laundering.

The four are due to stand trial in the capital, Nicosia, on Sept. 12 after the Attorney-General filed five counts of conspiracy to defraud the state and untoward influence over public officials, the report said.

Cyprus authorities said the charges were related both to Al Jazeera’s investigation, and the findings of a 2021 board of inquiry prompted by the exposé of the scandal.

The documentary showed the four men telling undercover reporters posing as representatives of a fictitious wealthy Chinese criminal that they were willing to help get a Cypriot EU passport if he paid them.

When the reporters asked Pittadjis if he had previously changed a client’s name for a passport so his criminal record would not be detected, he replied, laughing: “Of course, this is Cyprus!”

Syllouris told the reporters that they would have his “full support” and asked if the passport would be granted he also said: “I cannot say 100 percent but I say 99 percent,” issuing an essential guarantee.

All four men had denied any wrongdoing but within days of the documentary coming out the pasport program that Anastasiades had defended to the hilt – his family’s law firm was a go-between for applicants – was ended in disgrace.

The European Union, Cypriot government and police all began investigations and such was the furor that thousands protested outside the Parliament against corruption still rampant on the island despite vows to clean it up.

The 2021 Cyprus inquiry into the citizenship scheme found that 53 percent of the 6,779 citizenships granted between 2007 and 2020 – the vast majority of them to Russians – were unlawful, the news site also said.

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