NICOSIA – There's so much corruption on Cyprus that could be the country's name but Justice Minister Emily Yiolitis, 44, said she's going after it but at the same time fending off her own image as high-profile, high-spending yacht goer, the picture critics have of what she's trying to end.
With Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades unveiling his own anti-corruption measures after a scandal in the now-defunct Golden Visa scheme selling residency permits and European Union passports to rich foreigners, the island can't shake its reputation as a money haven for money launders and crooks.
She can't change photos showing her posting herself on social media with Chanel handbags and dining at super-expensive restaurants in Milan, Monte Carlo or Paris but the Oxford graduate also has had to react to criticism she has used her position of authority abusively, said Forbes magazine in a feature.
That was over getting a search warrant to seize electronic devices of a person she thought was behind a parody account mocking her, the kind of overreach associated with power and corruption she said she wants to battle.
That set off a furor which saw her accused of using her office for personal use and led the Supreme Court to overturn her order and canceling the warrant but the damage had been done.
She said she did nothing wrong despite the high court reversing her and critics accusing her of being thin-skinned in a profession that calls for discerning the difference and using the office to go after criminals, not parodies.
“Although I am open to criticism, ridicule or insults, and that's largely expected unfortunately in contemporary politics, I think that I should not show similar resilience when criticism or ridicule is aimed at persons of my family, I will protect them,” she said of her reasoning.
She is fluent in four languages and took on the job at a time when the Golden Visa scandal erupted after Al Jazeera, using a sting operation, got on tape the former Parliament Speaker offering to help get a visa for someone who said he had a criminal record in China.
Anastasides' family law firm has also worked to help facilitate visas for rich foreigners although he recused himself from its operations and the scandal led him to now plan an anti-corruption task force under the Attorney-General and an "integrity service" to check officials' assets for potential conflicts of interest.
Yiolitis also announced creation of a committee charged with preventing political interference in government appointments, the bolstering of legal protections for whistleblowers and the formation of a lobbyists registry, the Associated Press reported.
Also, penalties for corruption-related crimes will be beefed up, the police force will get a new financial crimes investigations unit and the public granted online access to anti-corruption investigations for more transparency, it said.
Yiolitis is the point person in charge of overhauling Cyprus' judicial system that had been accused of favoritism, the task getting more attention after the visa scandal that came after Anastasiades repeatedly defended it.
His bling bling image aside, she said however that EU states have the right to issue the visas that the bloc warned were open to criminal activity, which Cyprus said hadn't happened before it did.
But she said it was a minority of cases, suggesting the problem she's charged with fixing isn't that bad, adding: “Any corruption, particularly at the state level, cannot really be allowed to reflect on the vast law-abiding majority of the persons in government and in society,” wrote Forbes.
Her former law firm Harneys worked on some cases but she dismissed that appearance of impropriety too, claiming none involved those touched by the scandal.
“The persons involved in the scandal are under this an ongoing investigation, but their deeds cannot make good the argument that the government is corrupt, or that the whole system is corrupt, or that anyone with a finger in the citizenship by investment program is corrupt," Yiolitis said.
“As far as corruption is concerned, we are introducing a whole other range of bills to deal with corruption, and to rekindle the confidence of the public in the government and how the government is handling corruption,” she said, “We are determined to fight this problem.”