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Politics

Tenure Ending, Anastasiades Ducks 60 Minutes Cyprus Corruption Report

NICOSIA – Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, in the last days of his 10-year two-term reign, had little to say about allegations on the noted US TV magazine 60 Minutes that the country has been essentially usurped by rich Russian money.

The program blasted a disgraced and now ended residency-by-investment program under which rich foreigners could get European Union passports but wasn’t vetted properly for criminals and money launderers or people hiding their wealth.

Spotlighting alleged corruption led him to respond only that, “So you can understand … the other day’s report by the American network that Cyprus refuses to implement the sanctions imposed by Europe – nothing can be more untrue… Cyprus is in the crosshairs on these issues.”

That didn’t directly address the claims of Russian oligarch influence on the Greek-Cypriot side where they are some 18,000 Russian ex-patriates and so much sway that there are signs in Russian.

And several days after the show aired in the US, his government yanked nine more passports given to people whom it refused to identify, bringing the total to 222, said the Associated Press, although it wasn’t said if Russians were among them.

Anastasiades’ family law firm handled applications for the now-ended Citizenship by Investment scheme that gave wealthy foreigners residency although he recused himself from any involvement.

In one of his last addresses, just after the show appeared, he said he was proud of his time in office, including fighting corruption, without mentioning the show, although it got notice during the Presidential election campaign to replace him.

The European Union and critics said the residency program was open to money laundering and provided easy access to criminals trying to hide cash, who weren’t checked, blowing up after media reports about corruption.

The government has refused to reveal any names and Anastasiades, whose 10 years in office will end in February when elections are held, had staunchly defended the program, saying other countries were even worse.

Minister of Finance Constantinos Petrides told CBS that about ten holders of Cypriot passports were sanctioned by the West and that the Council of Ministers has initiated a process to revoke their citizenship.

THE VERY COLD CASH

Some also have had their assets frozen, including 105 million euros ($114.46 million) in deposits, 720 million euros ($784.89 million in funds managed by Cyprus-registered investment companies and 719 million euros ($783.79 million) in assets held by administrative services.

When asked by CBS to disclose their names, Petrides refused, citing European data protection rules, the channel says, although other EU countries have publicized detailed lists of their actions and it’s state money.

The channel also asked questions regarding what the government was doing about properties in Cyprus and shell companies that trace back to sanctioned Russians as the EU imposed penalties over the invasion of Ukraine.

“I’m not saying that everybody should trust the Cyprus government. The Cyprus government does not need somebody to trust it. We have the reports of the mutual assessment for Cyprus 2019 that shows all the progress made in the past years. I think that we have proved as Cyprus that we are a reliable member of the, of the EU. We do admit that in the past there have been mistakes. But Cyprus has also been unfairly stigmatized,” Petrides said.

He also said that tougher vetting for money laundering in recent years has made it harder to open a bank account in Cyprus and resulted in the closure of 80,000 bank accounts, while thousands more have been prevented from being opened, the program remaining cloaked in secrecy, however.

He said the total of frozen Russian assets was some 1.5 billion euros ($1.7 billion) in line with EU sanctions, and that Russian deposits in Cypriot banks have fallen from a stunning 40 percent of the total before the 2013 financial crisis  – when big depositors were forced to take a cut on their money  – to 3.8 percent.

“We don’t live in an unsupervised environment, especially a European Union member country with such a sinful past,” Petrides said. He was referring to lax banking and financial services supervision that earned Cyprus much criticism as a money-laundering heaven.

 

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)

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