Leaking a list of names who are beneficiaries of Cyprus’ citizenship-by-investment scheme to the media is possibly a criminal offence, commissioner for personal data protection, Irini Loizidou said on Wednesday after reports named several individuals and law firms involved in the scheme.
In a statement, Loizidou said it was in the hands of the attorney-general whether there were grounds for a criminal investigation.
Meanwhile, chairman of the Cyprus Investment Promotion Agency (CIPA) Michalis Michael, in an interview with state-radio CyBC, said Cyprus needs to safeguard the confidential handling of personal data of beneficiaries of its controversial citizenship-by-investment scheme, the benefits of which have exceeded expectations.
He was commenting a day after a list of those granted citizenship were leaked to local media.
The scheme, said Michael, who is a managing partner at the Cypriot division of the auditing firm KPMG and appointed chairman of the state-sponsored CIPA on January 9, “is paying off” and Cyprus needs to strengthen it.
Under the scheme, he continued, no investor with a “questionable character or level or financial prominence” ever managed to obtain Cypriot citizenship, while the council of ministers decided – on the very day of his appointment – to further strengthen the process.
Loizidou said the procedure outlines that when someone applies for citizenship – whether an investor or not – they publish a relevant announcement in the newspapers.
This is done so if anyone knows any reason to object to their application they can send a written report to the interior minister, she added.
“The law for citizenships does not provide publishing data on the people who have obtained citizenship whether it be for investment or other reasons, such as a marriage with a Cypriot citizen.”
As such, “there is no legal basis for publishing such data,” Loizidou added.
The personal data protection commissioner also stipulated that the law provided for parliament to be informed about the investors who have received a citizenship but “this does not justify its potential publication or leaking to media.”
A report on Stockwatch on Tuesday named several Russian businessmen, a sheikh and an African tycoon as among those who had received Cypriot passports in return for investment.
A separate leaked document listed the main four accounting firms Deloitte, Ernst & Young Cyprus, KPMG and PwC Ltd, as well as the law firms Nicos Chr. Anastasiades, founded by the president, and Tassos Papadopoulos and Co, founded by the late president, as providers of this type of service to foreign investors.
Other companies included on the list are Leptos Estates, Pafilia Property Developers, Coast & Hills Development Ltd, Crowe Horwath and Fiduciana Trust (Cyprus).
The report listing the names of the passport-holders has since been removed and the outlet will not face any repercussions as they deleted the list after Loizidou’s intervention, she said.
“If it comes to my attention that the list is being republished I will exercise my authority provided by the law against media outlets that do so.”
The number of beneficiaries of the scheme, first introduced ten years ago and modified on several occasions in the past, is around 3,300, according to the Cyprus News Agency.
According to other press reports, the number of beneficiaries is 3,383, broken down to 1,732 actual investors and 1,651 family members. The number of other individuals who received Cypriot citizenship after marrying a Cypriot national or after spending seven years in Cyprus since 2008 was 5,516 while the number of honorary naturalisations was 45.
According to Green Party lawmaker Giorgos Perdikis, who on Monday tabled a draft law to introduce more transparency into the scheme, the leak occurred when parliament workers distributed the list of the beneficiaries, which was not described as confidential.
While applicants for Cypriot citizenship, including those who invest as little as €2m to benefit from Cyprus’ fast-track naturalisation scheme, need to publish – ahead of filing their application – their intent to do so in the Cypriot press, the government subsequently treats the name of beneficiaries with utmost confidentiality, refusing to disclose this type of information to the public.
The scheme allows investors to receive Cypriot citizenship within months, while other foreigners need to spend at least seven years on the island before they can apply.
CIPA’s Michael who rejected Perdikis’ proposal, said that it would help nobody to engage in “coffeeshop gossip whether one sheikh” or any other investor benefited from the scheme.
According to a statement on the website of the council of ministers, last month’s decision provides for the setting up of a “Supervision and Control Committee” comprised of officials from the ministries of interior, finance, and from CIPA. The committee’s terms of references, described in an annex, are not available on the cabinet’s website.
The decision also provides for the setting up of a register of “Investors’ Naturalisation Scheme Service Providers” in which individuals and legal entities that offer related services will be registered after meeting certain “entry criteria”, included in a separate annex.
Applications filed on behalf of investors by unregistered individuals or companies, which may include “real-estate advisors, land developers, and banking and credit institutions”, will not be accepted.
The cabinet’s decision provides also for the introduction of a “code of conduct” prepared by CIPA that will include guidelines governing the promotion of the scheme and the banning of public and online advertisements, and also penalties for offenders.
In addition, both applicants and service providers will have to sign declarations confirming their compliance with the terms of the scheme and the correct application of practices, according to the cabinet’s document.