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President says will step down if shown to have links to passport sales

President Nicos Anastasiades said he would resign if it was determined that he was involved in the sale of passports as part of the island’s citizenship-by-investment programme.

In an interview with private television station Ant1, the president said claims of his involvement in the scheme through the law firm that bears his name — whose shares he transferred to his two daughters in 2013 — were exaggerated if not duplicitous.

The president sought to defend himself and the current form of citizenship-by-investment programme, which his administration introduced after he came to power in 2013.

“Let the (House) watchdog committee investigate … if they want to dethrone me let them investigate, and if any involvement is found I can be brought before a court or even step down,” he said.

The law firm bearing his name appears on a list of service providers as having processed some 40 applications out of 4,800 citizenships granted. Other prominent figures are also involved in the scheme, which Cyprus introduced after the economic collapse. It has so far fetched around €5bn, mainly channelled to the construction sector.

The president reiterated that Cyprus was being singled out and he said measures will be put in place to improve the island’s image abroad.

The government has also decided to hire companies to carry out due diligence, something that observers point out should have been done from the start.

In a report released in January, the European Commission warned that programmes of EU states, including Cyprus, to sell passports and visas to wealthy foreigners could help organised crime groups infiltrate the bloc and raise the risk of money laundering, corruption and tax evasion.

It highlighted shortfalls in the Cypriot and Maltese schemes, which do not sufficiently check the origins of the wealth of individuals and do not allow their easy identification.

Although legal, these schemes are sometimes run in opaque ways and without sufficient checks on those who acquire passports and visas, the commission said, mostly raising concerns about the programmes in Malta and Cyprus.

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