Inquiry finds most Cyprus passports issued in investment scheme ‘illegal’

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More than half the passports Cyprus issued to rich foreigners in an investment scheme were illegal, a government-appointed board of inquiry has found.

More than 3,000 foreign investors who stumped up a minimum of two million euros were given Cypriot passports between 2013 and 2019, with the scheme proving popular with Russians, Ukrainians, Chinese and Cambodians.

The programme was terminated last year after a corruption scandal, embarrassing the island’s centre-right administration which had championed the scheme before admitting it was flawed.

“Our interim report gives statistical data concerning illegal naturalisations – those which, in the view of the committee, were issued by exceeding the boundaries of the law – and those are 51.81% of the total,” Myron Nicolatos, who chaired the inquiry, told reporters on Friday.

He said some others were within the proper legal framework but did not meet some legal criteria which applied at the time.

In “tens” of cases, the commission recommended rescinding citizenship, Nicolatos added, without giving details.

In October, the EU commenced legal action against the governments of Cyprus and Malta over their so-called “golden passport” schemes. In a statement, the European Commission noted its concerns about the programs, stating that the sale of citizenship “is not compatible with the principle of sincere cooperation” and “undermines the essence of EU citizenship.” 

In August 2020, an Al Jazeera investigation found that some individuals who sought citizenship through the ‘Cyprus Investment Programme’ were under international sanctions, criminal investigation or serving prison sentences. The revelation prompted several high-profile resignations in Cyprus’ parliament. 

The scheme, which was ditched in 2020, reportedly earned the government more than €7 billion.

Al Jazeera / Daily Star (Lebanon)