Cyprus Scraps ‘Golden Passport’ Scheme Over Alleged Abuse

A woman wearing a mask exits a shop along Makarios Avenue, a busy shopping street in the downtown of Cyprus’ capital Nicosia on May 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AFP) — Cyprus said on Tuesday it will scrap its citizenship scheme for foreign investors next month over alleged abuses uncovered in a television program.

Government spokesman Kyriakos Koushos said the cabinet had agreed in an emergency meeting to abolish the scheme as proposed by the finance and interior ministers.

“The proposal of the two ministers was based on long-standing weaknesses, abuse and exploitation of the provisions of the investment program,” Koushos told reporters.

Koushos said the scheme — which has generated $8.25 billion — would brought to an end on November 1, 2020.

The government would “fully examine its policy to encourage investment”, he added, after the completion of an investigation into the so-called golden passports scheme.

The move came hours after Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera aired footage of officials allegedly trying to help a person acting as a client with a criminal record to acquire a Cyprus passport.

“Posing as representatives of a fictitious criminal character, our undercover reporters were ushered through the application process for the Cyprus Investment Programme by lawyers, property agents, leading eventually to high ranking politicians,” Al Jazeera reported on Monday.

Those involved — a Cypriot lawmaker and the parliament speaker — denied any wrongdoing.

Speaker Demetris Syllouris said Tuesday he was standing down until a police investigation into the claims was completed.

Cyprus began offering citizenship in exchange for substantial investment as far back as 2007, but the scheme was stepped up following the Mediterranean island’s 2013 economic crisis.

But Cyprus has faced pressure from the European Union to reform the scheme over concerns it may have helped organized crime gangs infiltrate the bloc.

Last month, Al Jazeera reported that dozens of those who had applied for “golden passports” were under criminal investigation or international sanctions, or serving prison sentences.

Cyprus had tightened its rules since 2007, including a ban on cash payments in 2014.

Currently, the government grants a passport in exchange for an investment of $3 million.

Even before Al Jazeera published its story, some 30 people had been referred for investigation to a special committee.

Last week, Nicosia said it was revoking seven passports for “false representation” by investors on their application.

The country is reexamining the cases of all roughly 4,000 people who successfully applied for a passport under the scheme.

© Agence France-Presse

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