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Almost 2,500 applications filed for ‘golden visas’

Finance Minister Constantinos Petrides

From May 2013 until August of this year, 2,390 applications were filed by law firms and accounting firms on behalf of foreign nationals seeking Cypriot naturalisation via the citizenship-by-investment scheme, official documents show.

The list has been leaked to the media after it was provided to parliament by the interior ministry via a letter dated November 21.

The company with the largest share of applications, 184, was PricewaterhouseCoopers (Cyprus Ltd).

In second place was the law firm of Andreas Demetriades & Co LLC, with 137 applications.

Third was the law firm of Michael Kyprianou and Co LLC with 123 applications, followed by Areti Charidemou & Associates LLC with 119, and KPMG with 114.

Lower down the rung was President Nicos Anastasiades’ law firm, Nicos Chr. Anastasiades & Partners LLC, which filed 41 applications.

Anastasiades maintains that since assuming office he has had nothing to do with the law firm and its business – although the main partners in the company are his daughters.

The Elias Neocleous & Co LLC law firm (formerly Andreas Neocleous & Co LLC) filed 54 applications, while Tassos Papadopoulos & Associates LLC filed 17.

Altogether, some 200 law firms are listed, accounting for 1,131 applications or about half of the total applications.

The list features only the applications filed, not the citizenships granted. In the letter providing the data, Interior Minister Constandinos Petrides promises to provide “additional information” to parliament in the near future.

The interior ministry has, however, released generic information on the number of citizenships granted to foreign nationals via the scheme.

It shows that from 2014 to 2017, a total of 2,996 citizenships were granted to foreign investors and family members.

The year 2017 was the busiest. In total, citizenship was granted to 503 investors, and another 510 Cypriot passports to family members; by comparison in 2016, 443 citizenships to investors and 461 passports to family members; in 2015, 337 citizenships and 342 passports; and in 2014, 214 citizenships and 186 passports.

According to the ministry, the applicants hail mainly from Asia, eastern Europe, European countries and Arab countries.

In an apparent damage-control exercise – following criticism from certain quarters abroad about Cyprus’ so-called ‘golden passports’ – the government last week announced that it will hire consultants to carry out tighter due diligence checks on the applications scheme.

2017 was also the year with the highest number of applications, at 704. For this year (up until August), there were 521 applications.

The cabinet recently decided to place a cap on citizenships granted, limiting them to 700 per year.

In October, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) put Cyprus on its ‘blacklist’ of countries whose ‘golden passport’ schemes are regarded as posing a threat to international efforts to combat tax evasion.

In 2016, Cyprus also came under fire from a group of MEPs, arguing that the island’s citizenship-by-investment programme undermined the Schengen border-control system.

Cypriot officials have vigorously defended the naturalisation scheme, saying its investment requirements are far higher than in other places.

The investment amount is €2m if the investment is made solely in residential real estate, at least a quarter of which must be spent on a residence for life.

If not, the threshold is €2.5m, at least €500,000 of which must be spent on a permanent residence. In both cases, the requirement of a permanent residence ensures the investor remains closely engaged with Cyprus even if not actually obliged to live on the island.

By comparison, under Malta’s scheme, €350,000 must be spent on a residence, and it need only be held for five years.

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