Cyprus to revoke 45 'golden passports'

Nicosia (AFP) –


Nicosia said Friday it would revoke the citizenship of 45 foreign investors and relatives who obtained a Cypriot passport through its disgraced citizenship-by-investment scheme, which collapsed last year under corruption allegations.

The cabinet based its decision on an independent inquiry into the programme that recommended looking into rescinding citizenships and other actions in 102 cases, government spokesperson Marios Pelekanos said.

"The cabinet decided to launch the revocation process for 39 investors and six members of their families," he said in a statement.

Cabinet would be examining a further six cases and monitoring another 47, he added.

Former supreme court judge Myron Nikolatos headed an independent committee that conducted the inquiry into the issuing of so-called "golden passports" between 2007 and last year.

The probe found there was "criminal and political" responsibility.

"It is obvious the Cyprus Investment Programme was operating between 2007 and 2020 with gaps and deficiencies, an inadequate legislative framework and almost no regulatory framework," Nikolatos had told reporters in June.

A damning report said that 53 percent of the 6,779 passports issued under the scheme were granted illegally, and pointed to a due diligence vacuum and insufficient background checks.

The Mediterranean island scrapped the passport scheme last November after the Al Jazeera broadcaster aired a documentary showing reporters posing as fixers for a fictitious Chinese businessman seeking a Cypriot passport despite having a criminal record.

Parliament speaker Demetris Syllouris and an opposition MP were secretly filmed allegedly trying to facilitate the process.

They later resigned, although both insisted they were innocent of any wrongdoing.

Al Jazeera reported that dozens of those who applied for passports through the programme were under criminal investigation, international sanctions or even serving prison sentences.

The scheme attracted wealthy foreign investors seeking a passport from EU member Cyprus that would allow free travel and residence within the 27-member bloc.

Nicosia had long faced pressure from Brussels to reform the scheme over concerns it may have helped organised crime gangs infiltrate the European Union.

Cyprus argued it had attracted necessary investment following the island's 2013 economic meltdown.

Nicosia issued thousands of passports under the scheme, allowing investors to acquire one in exchange for an investment of 2.5 million euros ($3 million), netting a total of over seven billion euros for the state over the years.

The European Commission had warned Nicosia over the passport scheme, launching a legal procedure against Cyprus that is still ongoing.