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Cyprus Will Yank Golden Visas from Seven Secret Foreign Investors

The National Herald

Photo: AP/EU

After insisting there were no problems in its Golden Visa program giving residency permits and European Union passports to rich foreigners investing in the country, the government said it would strip seven people who hadn't met criteria aimed at vetting those ineligible.

That came after a report by Al Jazeera's Investigative Unit that the government had sold them to criminals, fugitives and the corrupt, that coming after an earlier Reuters report finding the program was being used by wrongdoers.

The Reuters report led to 26 people seeing their permits and passports revoked with the government at that time also saying there was no indication the scheme was being used by criminals or to hide money.

Cyprus’ Golden Visa scheme offers citizenship in exchange for an investment of  2 million euros ($2.37 million,) including the purchase of a residence worth at least 500,000 euros ($591,932.50, in addition to another 150,000 euros ($177,579.75.)

President Nicos Anastasiades told the Agence France-Presse news agency  a special committee had previously started an investigation into 30 people who bought those passports to see if there were "any violations of our criteria,” at the same time he said there weren't any serious problems.

"It seems that seven out of the 30, they should be deprived of the Cyprus citizenship," Anastasiades said without revealing their identity, the government refusing to let people know who's buying their country's passports.

Al Jazeera said it was unclear whether Cyprus was only now looking into the passports of those named by the site or claiming it had already begun before the report the site said proved wrongdoing was going on.

In late 2019, the Cypriot government said 30 people were under investigation and faced being stripped of their citizenship.

The names of nine investors and 16 relatives were revealed in news reports - the remaining five were not named - but none of those names is among those published in The Cyprus Papers as Al Jazeera called its report.

In May 2020, Cyprus's Interior Ministry told Al Jazeera it had "initiated deprivation procedures" for 11 investors and their relatives, meaning the announcement of only seven individuals to be stripped of their passports suggests the government is taking less action than it originally promised.

It is also uncertain if any of those named in The Cyprus Papers are among the handful to lose their "golden passports" or if they are people related to earlier news reports.

In the interview with AFP Anastasiades defended the program that has been a major source of income for the Mediterranean country, bringing in 7 billion euros ($8.29 billion) from 7,000 investors.

While commitments were made in late 2019 to revoke passports of those linked to criminal activity, it was only in July this year that the Parliament passed a law that allows citizenship to be stripped retroactively, said Al Jazeera.

Following the news site's investigation, European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders said he is looking into the possibility of legal action against Cyprus over the country's citizenship-by-investment scheme.

"After the report that you have published and some others in the past, the first element is to be sure that there are some investigations at the national level from the justice system," Reynders told Al Jazeera.

"It is the task of the justice system in Cyprus to analyse the situation, and if it is possible for the Cypriot authorities to revoke the nationality."

In response to The Cyprus Papers,  Interior Minister Nicos Nouris, told Al Jazeera: "No citizenship was granted in violation of the regulations in force at the given time” with no explanation then why seven were revoked nor for what reason it was done.