Cyprus Mail

Ministry sticks to ‘no comment’ in Cambodia investment for passport scheme

THE government said on Thursday it does not comment on isolated cases concerning the investment-for-citizenship programme after it emerged that close relatives of Cambodia’s leader acquired Cypriot passports under the scheme.

An article by Reuters on Wednesday reported that eight family members or allies of the Cambodian leader, including the country’s police chief who has been instrumental in clamping down on dissent in Cambodia, and its finance minister, received Cypriot citizenship in 2016 and 2017, raising eyebrows as to the procedures followed by the government in granting passports to third country nationals.

The interior ministry on Thursday, after listing the criteria for granting citizenships to investors from third countries, said: “The government’s policy is not to publicly comment on isolated cases.”

The ministry’s announcement comes after a call by Akel MP Irini Charalambidou, a special representative on fighting corruption for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, called for explanations.

According to the interior ministry, the Cypriot investment programme includes audit procedures aimed at avoiding abuse of the system which are being constantly reviewed and strengthened to make the scheme “even more reliable and transparent.”

Firstly, it said, the programme, when it was launched in 2013, requires that applicants must have a clean criminal record issued by their country of origin and country of residence if this is different. It also stipulates that applicants should not be included on the list of persons whose property is frozen within the boundaries of the European Union.

It added that the last revision of the programme introduced last February, saw to additional safeguards;  applicants must now hold a valid Schengen visa, while persons who applied for citizenship in any other EU member state and were turned down are not entitled to obtain Cypriot citizenship as part of the scheme.

To ensure that all incoming funds are not part of money laundering schemes, all transactions require the investments in Cyprus to be carried out through Cypriot banks, the ministry said. Investments carried out with cash are not allowed.

As regards due diligence checks, all applicants undergo vetting by the state’s security authorities, the ministry said, while as of 2018 the government further strengthened those checks by additional assessment of applicants through a commercial database, provided by a specialised due diligence firm.

After the public tender procedure to forge cooperation with three due diligence firms is completed, enhanced due diligence checks will also be introduced. The procedure is at its final stage with the only thing left to do is sign the contacts, the ministry said.

The interior ministry also said that since last February, politically exposed persons that hold state positions or held one up to five years prior to their application are not eligible applicants.

The same applies to persons under investigation even if they have not been charged,  who are under sanctions by the UN Security Council, who have been sentenced for bribing or tax dodging and whose sentence has been written off, or who are linked with legal entities on which restrictive measures have been imposed by the EU or third countries.

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