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Letter from Athens: Psssst … Cypriots Can’t Know Who’s Buying Golden Visas

September 6, 2020

One of the basic and most important rights citizens should have – along with freedom of the press and speech – is the right to know what their government is doing.

Governments, from the zoning board and school committee level in American towns, and top-level defense and security agencies in every country, don't want you to know because they are usually double-dealing to protect themselves and gain power and privilege they don't want you to have.

Apart from near-dictatorial countries in the European Union such as Hungary and Poland, the gangster states of Bulgaria and Malta, the government of Cyprus is among the most secretive.

President Nicos Anastasiades seven years ago promised when he was elected to hold accountable the bankers whose bad loans to Greek companies and big holdings in Greek bonds devalued 74 percent nearly sank that island but we're still waiting on that one because he likes to work behind the scenes.

Maybe he's just a little distracted by the Guns of Turkey, its warships off the island protecting a drill ship looking for oil and gas while the EU – to which Cyprus belongs and Turkey has been trying to join for 15 years – looks the other way.

He can be a tad defensive when it comes to questioning his administration and authority, even testy at times, such as when he was asked a couple of years ago why Cyprus was selling Golden Visas that come with EU passports and residency permits to rich foreigners without looking for crooks.

In December of 2018, Anastasiades said the finger should be pointed at other countries for doing the same after the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said the schemes were being used for criminal means, including tax evasion, as the country was fighting a reputation for being a tax hideout haven.

He was really riled because his former law firm was being tied to the schemes which let people who can't find Cyprus on a map but are rich go to the head of the line over those from the Diaspora who have Cypriot heritage.

“It cannot be that Cyprus is being targeted, with this criticism being echoed by certain advocates within Cyprus for political expediencies,” Anastasiades said in an interview with TV One channel.

“There was much clamoring for publishing the lists of the providers, and they were given. And where was all the attention focused? On my former law firm,” he said, which should have set off some alarm bells, which are muffled on Cyprus.

He said of the thousands of applications for the citizenship-by-investment program filed by various companies and law firms on behalf of foreign nationals, only 41 were filed by the former firm which nears his name.

Cut to now, the COVID-19 summer of 2020 when Cyprus can't draw flies because people are afraid to fly and the Golden Visas are back to bite him where he can't reach without an extra-long backscratcher.

In February this year, just before the pandemic broke, the news agency Reuters reported that the Golden Visa program "was vulnerable to money laundering and fraught with risk," but he didn't want you to know that because Cyprus keeps the names of the rich – allegedly including criminals and the corrupt – private. Cypriots have a right to know who has bought citizenship in their country so why don't they rise up and demand it?

He won't listen, of course, because he turned a deaf ear over protests when he broke his word and let banks seize 47.5 percent of bank of accounts over 100,000 euros ($118,346) in 2013 so they wouldn't go under and good luck trying to get the names of bankers who brought the country to near-ruin.

Since the government won't reveal the names of people who bought the visas it was left to Reuters and now Al Jazeera to do some Old School Journalism – the type people today don't want because they prefer non-news from amateur bloggers working in their underwear in their mother's basement drooling on themselves – to tell you who some of they were.

It's not pretty.

Cyprus offers visas for an investment of 2 million euros ($2.36 million), including purchase of a residence worth at least 500,000 euros ($591,475) in addition to another 150,000 euros ($177,442).

Most of these go the Chinese and Russians who have a strong foothold in the island's economy and a Reuters investigation led to 26 visa holders having them revoked after Anastasiades said there weren't any problems in the program.

Now another investigative report, The Cyprus Papers by Al Jazeera, said it's even worse than that and it named names too.

The only one who hasn't is Anastasiades and his government, whose flag should be a shroud to cover itself with. Now even the EU, which normally works with its head in the sand, thinks something's rotten in Nicosia.

European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders told the news site he's looking into its report and mulling legal action against Cyprus after claims it failed to conduct due diligence on dozens of cases, allowing criminals and people under international sanctions to buy the visas.

No names but numbers: 7,000 secret people invested 7 billion euros ($8.28 billion) to get the visas. Where'd the money go? It seems to be a secret.

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