By Elias Hazou and Evie Andreou
Police said on Thursday it did not come to their attention until August 2018 that Malaysian businessman Jho Taek Low was on Interpol’s wanted list but when it did, they alerted the justice ministry and the interior ministry.
Police deputy spokesman Stelios Stylianou told CyBC radio that Low last visited the island in September 2015 – the same month he was issued a Cypriot passport under the citizenship-by-investment scheme.
The Malaysian was not a wanted man at the time.
After that, Low’s trail went cold.
In October 2016, Interpol published a red notice at Singapore’s request to locate and arrest Low in an investigation related to financial crimes.
In May or June of 2018, Interpol issued a second red notice for Low, this time at the request of Malaysian authorities.
According to Stylianou, Cyprus does not have a mutual judicial assistance or extradition treaty with either Singapore or Malaysia.
To this day, he added, Cypriot law enforcement has received no request from overseas to locate the fugitive Low.
Although Low’s name was on Interpol’s database – shared among the 193 countries that are members of the organisation – an alert on Low would not have ‘flashed’ unless he attempted to enter the Republic.
But in August 2018, Cypriot police discovered that Low’s name on the Interpol database of wanted individuals.
The spokesman did not explain, however, under what circumstances Cypriot police discovered this at that particular time.
Sources told the Cyprus Mail that Cypriot police may have found Low’s name on the Interpol database either by accident or during a ‘routine check’.
At any rate, the police said that as soon as they did determine Low was a wanted man, they immediately notified the justice ministry and the interior ministry.
According to the police’s version, therefore, authorities in Cyprus had official knowledge from August 2018 at least that the Malaysian was wanted for financial crimes.
No actions were taken to revoke his Cypriot passport.
Meantime daily Politis reports that in 2018, when Interpol issued a second red notice, their database was updated with the information that Low held three official documents: a Malaysian identity card, a Malaysian passport, and a passport from St Kitts & Nevis.
But there was no mention in the updated database of Low possessing a Cyprus passport.
The paper said authorities here are at a loss to explain why Interpol was unaware of Low holding a Cyprus travel document.
What is known is that in June 2018 Malaysia revoked Low’s passport, as did St Kitts & Nevis in the same year.
Also on Thursday, interior minister Constantinos Petrides said it was not possible to immediately revoke the 26 citizenships granted as part of the country’s investment scheme since the government needs to thoroughly back its decision before enforcing it.
The government announced earlier this week it would initiate procedures for the revocation of the passports granted to 26 people after the uproar caused by recent revelations.
“More might follow,” Petrides told state broadcaster CyBC.
He added that 26 people are linked with nine applications filed between 2012 and 2017.
The list of 26 reportedly includes one Malaysian, eight Cambodians, nine Russians, five Chinese, one Iranian and two Kenyans.
Petrides said the government cannot simply revoke these citizenships right away, as due process must be followed.
Earlier this year the government introduced stricter eligibility criteria including for ‘in advance exclusion’ – meaning that if there is information or even reports that passport applicants are involved in serious offences, they are excluded from the scheme in advance even if they are not yet found guilty.
“They may eventually be proven to be innocent, but they are considered high-risk,” Petrides said.