Data protection commissioner Irini Loizidou Nicolaidou said on Monday she is opposed to a blanket publication of the names of foreign nationals applying for naturalisation via the citizenship-by-investment scheme, arguing that it would be a disproportionate measure when juxtaposed against the need for transparency.
She was speaking in parliament, where lawmakers were discussing a bill tabled by the Greens MP George Perdikis.
Perdikis’ bill aims to amend the law so that the names and other details of all foreign nationals applying for the so-called ‘golden visa’ scheme are published, in a purported bid to boost transparency about the programme, which has come under fire from the EU.
Nicolaidou said in her opinion the transparency argument is superseded by other practical considerations.
“There may be some extreme cases [of applicants] which may not be ultimately approved, but it is possible that revealing those names could damage the public interest, the defence, the economy or the Republic’s international relations,” she told MPs.
It’s understood she was alluding to foreign individuals who are under either EU or US sanctions.
Loizidou said Cyprus should follow the guidelines of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) when it comes to the disclosure of personal data.
She cited Article 5 of the GDPR, which states that the personal data to be collected and processed shall be “adequate, relevant and limited to what is necessary in relation to the purposes for which they are processed (‘data minimisation’).”
In April 2018 parliament had voted down another bill submitted by Perdikis which mandated publishing in the government gazette the names of foreign nationals granted citizenship by Cyprus.
In February this year, and following criticism from overseas, the government introduced a series of changes to the citizenship-by-investment scheme, in a stated bid to make it more credible.
The cabinet approved stricter criteria for applicants who will undergo background checks by a specialised foreign firm. Applicants will also be obliged to already possess a Schengen visa – a short-stay visa that allows a person to travel to any members of the Schengen Area for up to 90 days for tourism or business purposes.
Applicants who have already been rejected by other EU states will be excluded.
In January, the European Commission had 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.
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.