Archbishop Chrysostomos and former interior minister Socratis Hasikos both denied reports on Monday that the naturalisation application for a Malaysian businessman – currently a fugitive – was approved within two days due to the intervention of the church.
Chrysostomos and Hasikos, who headed up the interior ministry at the time Jho Taek Low was approved for Cypriot citizenship, were forced to respond to a report by daily Politis.
The paper said that on September 10, 2015, the archbishop sent a letter to Hasikos, urging him to look favourably upon Low’s application under the citizenship-by-investment programme.
In the missive, Chrysostomos noted that Low had already invested some €5m to purchase a residence in Cyprus.
The top cleric pointed out that Low was due to visit the island on September 18, at which time Chrysostomos planned to meet with him “to discuss promoting various investment projects on church land”.
According to Politis, Chrysostomos went on to request from Hasikos that he “examine Mr Jho Low’s application prior to his arrival in Cyprus”.
The proposal for Low’s application for citizenship was submitted to the cabinet the very next day (September 11, 2015). The proposal was approved by unanimous decision.
The newspaper also published an excerpt of the proposal submitted to the cabinet by Hasikos which read:
“Given that the contents of this proposal concern sensitive personal data, which are protected under the relevant Data Protection Laws of 2002-2012, this decision shall not be published in any manner.
“Further, and for the same reason, the annexes to the proposal have been forwarded only to the secretariat of the cabinet.”
On Monday both men rejected Politis’ version of events.
Shifting blame from the church, the archbishop told CyBC that it was a developer, who had bought church land in Ayia Napa, who had asked the church to promote Low’s citizenship bid.
“He told us he was building mansions on the land he bought from us [the church].”
Chrysostomos added the developer gave them three names to promote for citizenship, and the church is unaware to whom citizenship was given.
Chrysostomos said that the responsibility for giving citizenship lies with the state authorities, although the church can promote certain individuals.
“It is done for the good of Cyprus. It is not up to us [the church] if the citizenship will be given, we are just asking,” he said.
The archbishop also said Low had donated money to the theological school, when he visited Cyprus. According to CyBC, the donation was for €300,000.
Responding on his Twitter account, Hasikos said:
“If indeed the archbishop were asking for the issuance of a passport for someone, and within two days the passport were issued, it would have been a monstrous scandal. However, it is a monstrous lie.”
According to Hasikos, Low had filed his naturalisation papers via an audit firm two-and-half-months prior to September.
The timeframe within which Low secured his passport was not out of the ordinary.
During these two months, Hasikos said, the agency handling the application completed its background screening in cooperation with its partners – Interpol, the Cyprus police and the interested bank.
The lender in question is understood to be Bank of Cyprus, where the €5m were deposited.
Interpol affirmed it had no compromising information on Law, while Cyprus police verified he had a clean criminal record. The Bank of Cyprus, meantime, confirmed the money deposited was clean.
Nevertheless, Hasikos said that in his opinion, and given what has since transpired regarding the Malaysian applicant, “he should be stripped of his citizenship.”