The cabinet on Wednesday said an investigation was being launched into how relatives and friends of Cambodia’s authoritarian prime minister were granted Cypriot passports.
In a statement after the meeting, government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou said that “after being briefed, the cabinet has decided, and the minister of interior will request and conduct an investigation into the cases of naturalisation, which have appeared in publications and which is being talked about. ”
He was referring to a Reuters expose on the issue last week.
The investigation by Reuters found 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.
Prodromou added that these naturalisations had been granted under the regulations in force in the past, “before today’s more stringent controls and restrictions came into force.”
If anything is suspected, decisions could be also be taken to revoke the nationality, if required, the spokesman said.
He said it was well known that the regulations had been changed in two phases, the final being in February this year. It is now known that an applicant must be a Schengen visa holder in order to apply, he said. A clean criminal record is also required “as always”, but financial investigations were also being conducted internationally using specialised agencies “and in any case, they cannot be politically exposed persons”, he added.
“There are these restrictions and there is now an electronic database that did not exist in the past, which can also be accessed by government services,” he said. “The cases that have been highlighted will be examined.”
According to the interior ministry, the Cypriot investment programme, launched in 2013, 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.”
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.
The last revision of the programme introduced last February after a backlash and a warning from the EU, added the Schengen condition and one wherein, persons who applied for citizenship in any other EU member state and were turned down were 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 also require the investments in Cyprus to be carried out through Cypriot banks, the ministry said. Investments carried out with cash are not allowed.
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.