NICOSIA — Ukrainian authorities have informed Cyprus about their seizure of $420 million worth of shares and securities linked to the east Mediterranean island nation, which belong to a Russian billionaire and other businessmen, a Cypriot official said Tuesday.
Cyprus government spokesman Marios Pelekanos told the Associated Press that Ukraine raised the matter with “the relevant authorities of the Republic of Cyprus.”
But he said “no information can be disclosed” on whether Cyprus-registered companies were used to shield the assets from sanctions imposed following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Ukraine’s Prosecutor-General Iryna Venediktova in a social media posting identified the Russian businessman as billionaire Mikhail Fridman of Alfa Bank, a Russian lender with major operations in Ukraine.
Venediktova’s office had previously described how an unnamed “Russian oligarch and businessmen” heavily involved in the Ukrainian banking sector sought to protect wealth from sanctions by routing it through Cyprus.
Cyprus is “fully committed to the effective implementation of both U.N. sanctions” and European Union restrictive measures and any violation is punishable by law, Pelekanos said.
He added that Fridman does not hold a Cypriot passport.
Cyprus said it would strip citizenship from eight Russians — and their family members — who appear on the EU’s sanctions list.
The Russians received Cypriot passports under the country’s once lucrative citizenship-by-investment program that was scrapped two years ago in the wake of an undercover TV report.
The report allegedly showed the parliamentary speaker and a senior lawmaker claiming that they could skirt the rules to issue a passport to a fictitious Chinese investor supposedly convicted of fraud at home.
A 2021 report found that more than half of a total 6,779 passports were issued unlawfully to relatives of wealthy investors over the program’s 13-year run that generated more than 8 billion euros.
The report said the government had incorrectly interpreted the law on issuing passports to relatives and also found that nearly 770 foreigners were wrongly granted citizenship primarily because of inadequate vetting.