Trying to reverse its image as a haven for criminals who want to hide their stash of ill-gotten gains, Cyprus closed more than 20,000 foreign accounts since 2014 as part of anti-money laundering efforts, costing banks 5 billion euros ($5.68 billion).
That came out of the Central Bank of Cyprus and as the government is now dealing with criticism it’s selling Golden Visas, residency permits, for wealthy foreigners who can use them to travel in the European Union despite complaints some many be used to launder money and hide even more criminal activity.
As a result, Cypriot banks have seen a big outflow of deposits from their biggest customers, wealthy Russians, with the crackdown seeing that niche lose 50 percent of its value, from 9.9 percent to just 5.5 percent of assets in financial institutions, said Kathimerini Cyprus.
A 2015 US State Department report called Cyprus an intermediary between criminal enterprises seeking avenues to launder money, a label the country hasn’t fully been able to shake even as it has recovered on the back of austerity and big tourism seasons.
The government instituted some reforms when the crisis emerged in 2013 and a few months ago chose an American public relations firm to improve the country’s image.
That comes as a new casino resort in Cyprus that is expected to be Europe’s biggest will be the centerpiece of the Mediterranean island’s strategy to become a luxury tourism destination and draw gamblers, big spenders and money from around the world.
Under pressure from the United States to crack down on money-laundering operations, with the island seen a haven for tax cheats and the rich, Cyprus’ Central Bank is making it more difficult for shell companies to operate.
Through an email, the bank advised compliance officers within financial credit institutions of a new directive which basically amounts to telling banks to avoid commercial relations with clients who represent shell companies, Kathimerini reported.
A number of law firms in Cyprus are known to act as brokers in setting up front companies for their clients, but the practice is widely unregulated, the paper said.
The new rules will make it harder for companies to do business in Cyprus if they have no physical presence or do not engage in economic activity on the island in a bid to prevent front companies from being set up. The directive expanded the definition of “shell companies” aimed at companies based in tax havens or offices that have no tax residence.