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Cyprus will no longer grant passports for millions of euros

This is the end of “golden passports” in Cyprus. It is diffusion of an investigation by the Qatari television channel Al-Jazeera on alleged abuses which precipitated the end of this controversial program aimed at attracting wealthy investors to the island member of the European Union. The decision was taken because of “longstanding loopholes, abuse and exploitation of the provisions of the investment program,” government spokesman Kyriacos Koushos told reporters.

The program allows wealthy citizens to obtain a Cypriot passport in exchange for substantial investments in the Mediterranean country. The system – which generated 7 billion euros – will be abolished on November 1, said Kyriacos Koushos, adding that the government would “review its policy on the means of attracting investment”.

According to the rules in force, a citizen of a non-EU country can obtain a Cypriot passport in exchange for an investment of 2.5 million euros, which can consist of the purchase of a residence on the island. Brussels believes that the device could help individuals of organized crime to infiltrate the Union and put pressure on Cyprus, which in February 2019 had tightened the conditions for obtaining these “golden passports”.

“Outrage, anger and worry”

The government’s surprise announcement came hours after Al-Jazeera aired images showing officials allegedly trying to help someone, acting as a client with a criminal record, obtain a Cypriot passport.

“Passing themselves off as representatives of a fictional character supposed to be a criminal, our undercover journalists have been initiated […] to the investment program in Cyprus by lawyers and real estate agents, ultimately leading to high-ranking politicians, ”the Qatari channel said in a statement.

Cypriot Justice Minister George Savvides assures us that there would be a full investigation to respond to “outrage, anger and concern” caused by Al-Jazeera’s investigation. “We will do whatever is necessary to protect the public interest,” he added in a statement.

The politicians implicated in the televised investigation – an MP and the Speaker of Parliament – denied any impropriety on their part. However, the member in question, Christakis Giovanis, resigned from Parliament and from the positions he held within his party. And the Speaker of Parliament, Demetris Syllouris, announced on Tuesday that he was stepping down until the end of the police investigation.

“Very positive” decision

For its part, the European Union welcomed the announcement of the Cypriot government. “I welcome the decision taken by Cyprus,” tweeted European Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders. The French Secretary of State for European Affairs, Clément Beaune, also welcomed on Twitter the “very positive” decision taken by the Cypriot authorities.

A previous Al-Jazeera investigation, based on leaked data, had shown that wealthy Kremlin-linked Russians and wealthy Chinese were “willing to pay millions of dollars for a British passport. ‘EU’ in Cyprus. The Cypriot authorities are re-examining the files of some 4,000 people who benefited from the device launched in 2007, and which especially developed after the economic crisis of 2013. Last week, Cyprus announced the revocation of seven passports.

The announcement of the abolition of “golden passports” in Cyprus comes a few weeks after the arrest in Malta, another European country, of Keith Schembri, the former chief of staff of the former Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, in in connection with an investigation into alleged bribes linked to the sale of Maltese passports to wealthy citizens of non-EU countries. This trafficking was denounced by journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, murdered in 2017, who accused this former close associate of Joseph Muscat of corruption.

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