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Society

Trial in Four Accused in Cyprus Residency Permit Scandal Begins Oct. 11

September 17, 2023

NICOSIA – Four people charged with helping rich foreigners get residency permits and valuable European Union passports in Cyprus in return for bribes will face court in a first hearing set for Oct. 11.

The scheme unraveled in disgrace amid reports of corruption after the news site Al Jazeera conducted a sting that revealed operations to give the applicants the permits despite being told they had criminal backgrounds.

It ended in 2020 and subsequent investigations found applicants weren’t being checked for a criminal past amid EU concerns that so-called Golden Visa programs weren’t being vetted for money laundering either.

The defendants include former House President Demetris Syllouris, and former Member of Parliament and developer Christakis Giovani as well as a senior lawyer for the Giovani Group, Antonis Antoniou, and lawyer Andreas Pittadjis.

They were all released on bail, said SchengenVisaInfo.com which noted that they were charged after the Al Jazeera report early in 2020 in which a reporter contacted them pretending to be a Chinese criminal and asking for help.

https://www.schengenvisainfo.com/news/defendants-in-cyprus-golden-passport-case-to-appear-in-front-of-criminal-court-in-october/

The news site all four agreed to get him the permit and passport and that it would be easy after the country’s then-President Nicos Anastasiades had vigorously defended the program, saying other countries’ schemes were worse.

The Cyprus Audit Office conducted a probe and found that country had lost millions in revenue to foreigners obtaining Golden Passports without any type of investment in the country as required, simply buying them with bribes.

Cyprus stripped 222 of the permit and passport holders of their rights to hold them, the scheme lucrative for the country and mainly benefiting Chinese and also Russians, who have a big presence on the island and were accused of using its banks to hide their wealth.

The Cypriot government strongly denied any corruption but acknowledged “errors, loopholes and oversights” in how the program was run. Embarrassment as information about the program reverberated among Cyprus’ fellow European Union members prompted the government to scrap it.

The passport program generated more than 9 billion euros ($9.6 billion) for the country as it reeled from a 2013 financial crisis that brought it to the verge of bankruptcy and led its second-largest bank to shut down.

 

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

 

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