Cyprus Mail
Cyprus

Mokas says passport scheme outside its remit

THE anti-money laundering unit Mokas said Friday the island’s citizenship scheme did not fall under its remit after recent reports said it had been involved in the case of Malaysian businessman Jho Low who is wanted by the authorities in his country for financial crimes.

In a written statement, Mokas said it had no jurisdiction over the scheme and got involved when Bank of Cyprus passed on information in October 2015 regarding the businessman.

“In a letter to the interior ministry, the unit informed of the negative publications regarding Mr Low as well as the transactions that had been carried out, considering that the particular individual had applied for citizenship.”

Low’s case was the latest in a string of negative instances concerning the island’s citizenship programme, forcing the government to admit that due diligence had been lax until 2018. The administration subsequently decided to rescind 26 citizenships including Low’s, as Cyprus’ reputation was once again left in tatters.

Then interior minister Socratis Hasikos has denied any wrongdoing, saying that when Low received the citizenship in 2015, he had a clean record. Police had no information that he was wanted, apart from what was on the Internet, he said.

Cypriot police notified the justice and interior ministries that Low was wanted by Malaysia in August 2018. No further action had been taken by the authorities until this month, when daily Politis broke the story, including the fact that Archbishop Chrysostomos received €300,000 in return for mediating on behalf of the Malaysian.

It followed revelations that Cypriot passports had been granted to eight wealthy relatives and allies of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen which will be revoked.

Business groups on Friday highlighted the need to protect the programme, which, they said, helped key sectors of the economy.

The programme created thousands of jobs across a spectrum of professions, at the same time boosting the reduction of non-performing loans, the said.

It also contributed substantially to the reduction of public debt and implementation of large projects that helped the effort of establishing the island as a business centre.

The businesses admitted there may be “isolated cases” that needed review, but the new, stricter scheme currently implemented can effectively respond to the economic challenges and Cyprus’ international image.

“In this common effort, cultivating a climate of uncertainty is damaging,” they said. “It is vital to protect the Cypriot investment programme, the force of growth it affords the country’s economy, and at the same time protect our country’s credibility.”

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