ΝΙCOSIA — The scandal surrounding Cyprus’ sale to rich foreigners of so-called Golden Visas – residency permits that came with European Union passports – was far worse than initial estimates, a special panel finding 51.81 percent weren’t legal.
The board appointed by the government of President Nicos Anastasiades – whose family’s law firm had brokered arrangements for the visas – said that more than 3,000 foreigners were approved between 2013-19, said Reuters.
Most of the visas went to rich Russians, Ukrainians, Chinese and Cambodians while even Cypriots of the Diaspora had to go through hoops to get residency permits despite their heritage and ties to the island country.
The program, under fierce criticism including allegations visas were knowingly sold to criminals and hadn’t been vetted for money laundering was ended reluctantly in November, 2020, after Anastasiades strongly defended it.
"Our interim report gives statistical data concerning illegal naturalizations – those which, in the view of the committee, were issued by exceeding the boundaries of the law, committee Chairman Myron Nicolatos told reporters.
He said some others were within the proper legal framework but did not meet some legal criteria which applied at the time while in "tens" of cases, the commission recommended rescinding citizenship, no report if they were.
His report has been passed to the Attorney-General's office and not been made public as the government is still keeping a lid on the findings while fighting a reputation of Cyprus being a haven for hiding dirty money.
"The interim report notes possible criminal, disciplinary or administrative responsibilities which will be investigated by the relevant authorities," said Nicolatos, who was President of the Supreme Court until he retired in 2020.
The scheme ended abruptly after the Al Jazeera new network secretly filmed a former Parliament Speaker and others allegedly offering to help a person with a criminal record obtain a passport, but nobody has yet been prosecuted.
The European Commission launched infringement procedures against Cyprus for selling the visas to people with no links to the island otherwise although other countries are doing the same, including Greece.
Investigators probed 2,478 passports issued from 2007 to 2016, and an additional 417, deemed high-risk, until 2020, said Reuters which had also unveiled other problems in the scheme previously.