The controversy over the citizenship-by-investment scheme was reignited on Monday, after spokesman Prodromos Prodromou clarified that the three-member committee to be appointed to check the scheme will not examine past naturalisations.
Prodromou told CyBC radio that the purpose of the three-member committee, to be approved by the cabinet, would be to “check” future naturalisations, not those from the past.
Main opposition Akel immediately panned the comments, saying this was a world first: a committee that would not be doing any investigating.
“Meaning that whatever checks will be carried out, will be conducted by the interior ministry itself. That is, they will be checking themselves.
“Those in government not only lack any sense of having humiliated our country in the eyes of the world, to top it all they are now telling us they will not even investigate the naturalisation scandals.”
Last week the cabinet announced it would be revoking 26 citizenships granted through the citizenship-by-investment programme up to 2018, before stricter criteria were introduced.
The decision came amid embarrassing revelations that passports were given to Malaysian businessman Jho Taek Low – now a fugitive – as well as persons tied to Cambodia’s authoritarian government.
At the same time, the government said it would set up a committee tasked with examining the findings of new forensic audits on passports granted up until 2018, and to submit a report with conclusions and recommendations to the cabinet.
When Prodromou announced the committee he stressed its work will not be investigative in nature.
On Monday Diko called for an independent inquiry into passports granted under the citizenship-via-investment scheme, arguing that the government cannot be trusted to shine light on the affair.
Party leader Nicholas Papadopoulos said a committee of inquiry must be set up, charged with investigating possible criminal, administrative as well as political liability.
He pointed out that the recently announced three-member panel is, by the government’s own admission, not an investigative body.
In his comments on the nature of the committee last week, Prodromou was likely forestalling anticipated accusations such as those from Diko that the cabinet, which appointed the committee, would be thus investigating itself – given that it is the cabinet itself which has had the final say in approving the naturalisation of foreign investors.
But the optics were poor, since by saying so the spokesman opened the government up to criticism that it isn’t cutting to the heart of the matter.
Papadopoulos said that this precisely underscores the need for an independent probe.
“Once again. we are witnessing blatant mockery, aimed at covering up political and other responsibilities,” the Diko chief said of the three-member panel.
“It cannot stand that, in this country, there are scandals everywhere, but never any guilty parties.”
But judging by comments posted online, members of the public are equally skeptical of Papadopoulos’ own proposal.
Some punters pointed out it would take at least a year for a committee of inquiry, such as that proposed by Papadopoulos, to complete its work. Until then, the issue would be memory-holed.
In the meantime, an online petition has been launched asking that the attorney-general investigate the ‘donations’ given by Low to the Church of Cyprus in 2015.
It refers to confirmed reports on two cheques issued by Low to the Arcbishopric, one for €300,000, the other for €10,000.
The petition, on Avaaz, demands that Archbishop Chrysostomos be the subject of a criminal investigation, on the grounds of political corruption and influence peddling.
By Monday afternoon, the signature counter ran past 600.