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Cypriot government criticised for “Golden Passport” scheme

By Elizabeth Hearst

The Cypriot government has slammed allegations that the country was granting citizenship to wealthy foreigners who were suspected of corruption and fraud, in exchange for millions in investment in the country according to The New York Times

Following the 2013 financial crisis, the country introduced a “golden passport” investment programme which promised citizenship in exchange for investment in the nation. The programme has attracted numerous wealthy international investors who are keen to gain access to the European Union, through Cyprus. 

An investigation by Al Jazeera found that “convicted fraudsters, money launderers and political figures accused of corruption are among dozens of people from more than 70 countries who have bought so-called ‘golden passports’” 

It is believed that these high-profile individuals secured these “golden passports” by paying at least €2 Million in investments in the country, despite being under investigation for crimes such as corruption and fraud. 

However, Nicos Nouris MP blasted these claims and insisted that all citizens met all criteria set at the time. He said: “No citizenship was granted in violation of the regulations in force at the given time.”

German MEP Sven Giegold criticised the regime and told Al Jazeera: “It’s high value for everyone who comes from a country where there’s a lot of dirty money involved.” 

It is believed that between 2017 and 2019, the highest number of applicants were individuals from Russia, China and Ukraine. In May 2019, the Cypriot government introduced more stringent legislation on who was eligible for citizenship. They subsequently banned anyone who was under investigation, wanted, convicted or under international sanctions from buying a passport. 

In July, the Cypriot parliament passed a law that allows the country to revoke citizenship from individuals who have been involved in scandals, with the government looking to revoke the citizenship of 26 foreign investors from countries such as Russia, Cambodia and Iran following allegations that they had flouted the rules. This legislation will apply to anyone who has committed a serious crime, is wanted by Interpol or who is subject to sanctions in the 10 years after they received their passport. 

Eleni Mavrou, Cypriot MP told Al Jazeera that: “That the way the programme was implemented the last few years was obviously a procedure that allowed cases for which the Republic of Cyprus should be ashamed.”

She added: “I believe that the new regulations will not leave room for foul play or for stepping over the boundaries that a state should respect.”

Under the new legislation, prospective citizens will be vetted under anti-money laundering rules, with investors now required to buy a home, buy stock in Cypriot companies or contribute to housing or entrepreneurship programmes. The number of these “golden passport” citizenships will be capped at 700 per year. 

Under the programme, over 4000 passports have been issued to investors generating at least €7 Billion since its inception in 2013.

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