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Despite opposition, government declares issue of private jet closed

Government spokesman Kyriakos Koushos

The government said on Tuesday it considered the matter regarding the president’s use of a private jet closed as opposition parties continued to demand answers over the president’s relation with the Saudi owner of the aircraft after a video emerged showing that he had met him before the date claimed by the spokesman the previous day.

Government spokesman Kyriacos Kousios told reporters on Tuesday that it was time everyone focused on the pressing issues faced by the country.

Kousios reiterated the government’s position on the matter but there was no mention of a video showing that President Nicos Anastasiades had met the Saudi investor – who had been granted citizenship along with 36 other relatives and friends – about a year before the time the spokesman claimed.

“I will not make statements again on the particular issue,” Kousios said. “It is time to focus on the burning issues faced by the country and I think we must concentrate on the reforms that are something that would help the state manage and satisfy its citizens.”

The spat was sparked following the publication last Friday of a report by the audit service into Anastasiades’ use of private jets for his travels, including for a private holiday to the Seychelles, and a related report concerning the naturalisation of the owner of one of the aircraft used.

Along with the Seychelles visit, Anastasiades also used the jet to travel to New York to address the UN General Assembly last September.

Though the report on the private jets concluded that no taxpayer money had been squandered, it did not address the ethical issues arising.

The second report, meanwhile, suggested citizenships should not have been granted in 2015 to the rich Saudi owner of the jet and 41 other individuals because they did not meet the criteria. The total number of investors, including the Saudi businessman was six. An additional 36 people – spouses, children – were also naturalised in line with the citizenship for investment scheme.

The government sought to dispel suggestions of preferential treatment, saying Anastasiades had only met the investor for the first time at a public event held by the investment promotion agency after he had been granted citizenship in 2015.

The first charter was in November 2016 and the trip to the Seychelles in the summer of 2018, the spokesman said.

However, a video of a Sigma television news clip dated June 26, 2014 showed the Saudi investor meeting with Archbishop Chrysostomos and later thanking him and Anastasiades for their hospitality. The investor said he had enjoyed his time with them.

“For the government, the matter is considered closed,” Kousios said. “A discussion will take place at the appropriate House committee, let us leave it at that.”

The spokesman briefed reporters after a scheduled meeting between Anastasiades and Diko leader Nicolas Papadopoulos, who has been highly critical of the president, suggesting that a probe should be launched by the attorney-general.

Kousios said the two men discussed current affairs, corruption, match fixing and the Cyprus problem.

“We believe the use of private aircraft, the way it has been done, as well as the matter of the naturalisation of the particular investors, raise huge political ethics issues,” Papadopoulos said afterwards.

The Diko chairman said his party wanted the matter discussed in parliament to determine whether the investors met the criteria.

Citing the auditor’s findings, Papadopoulos said there was a possibility of criminal offences if any of the information was misrepresented or the land registry had been misled in any way regarding the value of the real estate the investors had acquired.

The government insists the six investors and their families invested €19.8m, well above the €15m they ought to have invested per scheme criteria. The auditor however, suggested they fell short of the minimum amount.

 

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