An investigative report by Al Jazeera claiming Cyprus sold Golden Visa residency permits that came with European Union passports to criminals and the corrupt could spur legal action by the bloc.
European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders told the news site he's concerned about the stories probing the program that had already drawn fire from the EU for being open to money laundering.
Reynders also called for changes throughout Europe in other countries which also sell the visas – Greece does as well – to rich foreigners, but on Cyprus the government hides their names and said it has done nothing wrong.
Al Jazeera's Investigative Unit published The Cyprus Papers, a collection of leaked documents that showed Cyprus sold passports to criminals, fugitives and people considered to be at high risk of corruption.
Those documents, consisting of almost 1,500 passport applications containing more than 2,400 names, showed Cyprus failed to conduct due diligence on dozens of cases, allowing criminals and people under international sanctions to buy citizenship for the EU-member state, the site said.
Reynders told Al Jazeera he asked the legal department of the European Justice Commission "to analyze if it is possible in the legal framework that we have now to start an infringement proceeding or to come with a legislative proposal.”
He said he wants the EU to act – it hasn't – but said that the responsibility lies with the Cypriot government, which has opened itself to the super-rich from other countries, especially Russia and China, whose citizens have bought most.
"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 said.
"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,” of people who may not have been eligible, he added.
Cyprus did that in 26 cases after the news agency Reuters first reported on flaws in screening applicants although President Nicos Anastasiades had doubled down on claims the government had sorted them and that other countries programs were even worse.
The government said the report was "propaganda, not journalism" in denouncing the investigation although Al Jazeera had named people with shadowy pasts who had gotten the visas despite the veil of secrecy.
"All of the persons in question, for whom we will avoid naming for obvious reasons, at the time of submission of their applications, met the criteria and were holders of clean criminal records in their countries of origin and countries of residence," Cypriot Minister of Interior Nicos Nouris said during a news conference, according to local media
"What is being found is a deliberate attempt by Al Jazeera to falsify data and information," Nouris added, without providing proof of his claims.
Nouris said an investigation was continuing into the source of the leaked documents Al Jazeera obtained but not the content as Transparency International said passports should be revoked if it's found they went to people involved in wrongdoing.
Lauren Brillaud, Transparency's senior policy officer, told Al Jazeera the EU has previously promised looking into the visa programs but not delivered, the bloc often delaying responses after making initial vows of reforms.
"Now it is important the commission follows through on its promise. We have previously heard the commission say they will not tolerate abuse through these schemes but not take decisive action," she said.
"The EU must waste no more time, initiate infringement proceedings against Cyprus, and potentially other countries that sell EU citizenship, for violating the principle of sincere cooperation between the member states,” she also added.