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Cyprus Broke Law Granting Residency, EU Passports to Rich Foreigners

Αssociated Press

A demonstrator takes a mock copy of Cyprus passport during a demonstration against corruption outside of the conference center in the capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

NICOSIA -- A government appointed panel found Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades' government repeatedly violated its own laws in selling residency permits and European Union passports to wealthy foreigners without property vetting them for criminal activity and money laundering.

Anastasides – whose family's law firm helped broker the sales although he recused himself – had defended the permit process before reluctantly ending it in November, 2020 after media reports alleging corruption.

The government sold citizenship to 6,779 people between 2007 and 2020, most of them Russians, and most of the permits were given under the government of Anastasiades, who was elected in 2013 and re-elected in 2018.

“There was mass illegality … exceeding the relevant law on the part of the council of ministers, or the councils of ministers (of the time) and others concerning citizenship to family members of investors,” said Myron Nikolatos, an ex-chief justice who headed the government-appointed, independent commission of inquiry, the news agency Reuters reported.

Cyprus’ Council of Ministers, or cabinet, routinely approved the permits even though the panel found that 53 percent of them were went to relatives of the principal investor and were wrongly issued with passports, Nikolatos said.

He said authorities continued issuing passports to dependents even though the government was warned in 2015 and 2016 by its chief legal adviser that the practice was possibly illegal, for which no one has been held accountable.

He delivered the panel's findings to the Attorney-General with no indication whether it would be acted on or set aside, with a government spokesman telling the news agency that Anastasiades needs time to look it over.

He shut down the scheme following disclosures from news agencies about wroingdoing, including Al Jazeera, which ran a sting operation ensnaring the country's second-highest official reportedly offering to help someone who said he had a criminal record.

The government, it was indicated, was willing to close its eyes and sell the permits and passports to anyone who could pony up a million 2 million euros ($2.43 million) in investments, no report where the money goes.

An interim report was heavily blacked out despite the issue being one of public record although the government had refused to give any names or details about who was taking part in in program. 

But that also found that there were fugitives jumping onto the backside of applications by spouses or schemes selling properties several times to to different investors through “cancel and release” agreements once citizenship had been obtained, also said Reuters.

The European Commission had launched infringement procedures against Cyprus over the scheme in 2020, complaining that selling EU passports for pre-determined payments, to people who no ties to the bloc or to Cyprus undermined the integrity of of EU citizenship, the report added.

There was even criticism from political leaders and others on Cyprus about the scheme, including that it was granting privileges to rich people “who couldn't find Cyprus on a map”.