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Report: Anastasiades Used Jet of Saudi Businessmen Given Golden Visa

Αssociated Press

FILE - Cyprus' president Nicos Anastasiades talks during an interview with the Associated Press at the presidential palace in capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Tuesday Sept. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

NICOSIA - President Nicos Anastasiades reportedly used the private jet of a Saudi businessman who acquired a Cypriot passport through the country’s Golden Visa program ripped for not properly vetting applicants for money laundering and criminal activity.

That happened even before complaints he also used the jet, violating the code of ethics, to take his family on a vacation to The Seychelles in 2018, reported The Cyprus Mail, leading him to say it shouldn’t have been done.

The revelations have ratcheted up the heat on Anastasiades, who strongly defended the visa program selling Cypriot residency permits and European Union passports to rich foreigners with more than two dozen set to be recalled after allegedly finding wrongdoing, after pressure from a report by the Reuters news agency.

The president also said using the aircraft did not violate the ethics code and that it had been a friendly gesture on behalf of the businessman and not a gift without explaining the difference and why it wasn’t a conflict of interest because a visa was granted.

The president said the jet owner had acquired a Cypriot passport in January 2015 and the trip to The Seychelles took place in August 2018 but the Daily Politis reported, based on sources not named, that he had used the jet a few months before the visa was given.

The businessman was not named with no explanation why not but the report said he now has a B737 permanently stationed at Larnaca airport, which has been used several times for the President’s official trips, 32 times, the paper reported.

The family of the late Chris Lazari, the Cyprus-born British billionaire property developer and Anastasiades’ friend, who had offered to assume the cost for the use of a private plane for the President’s official trips abroad, reportedly still does.

Lazari, had said in 2014 he would assume the cost for Anastasiades’ official trips with a private jet when necessary, such as in cases there was no direct air link with Cyprus.

Anastasiades, referring to a report by the government’s Auditor-General over the Golden Visa, said the Saudi businessman wasn’t given any favorable treatment, indicating it was a coincidence he had gotten the passport and residency.

But the auditor also was said to have suggested that citizenships should not have been granted in 2015 to the rich Saudi and 41 other individuals because they did not meet the criteria for doing so.

The report concluded that no taxpayer money had been used but steered clear of any ethical or conflict of interest questions, the case being discussed by the Parliament’s watchdog committee but Anastasiades left unscathed still.