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Akel accuses government of whitewash over passports

The administration and main opposition Akel again sparred on Tuesday over the citizenship-by-investment scheme after it emerged a day earlier that the 26 passports that were to be revoked were not actually rescinded.

In a statement, Akel spokesman Stefanos Stefanou said the revelation confirmed their fears – that the cabinet’s appointment of an ad hoc committee late last year to look into the proposed revocations and dodgy naturalisations amounts to a whitewashing exercise.

“The government’s inaction demonstrates that their chief concern is not to carry out a real investigation. Rather, their preoccupation is with covering up the political responsibilities of the Disy-Anastasiades administration for turning the [passport] programme into an industry.”

Stefanou added: “Is there anyone out there still wondering why our country has slid in corruption indices across Europe since the day the government of Nicos Anastasiades came to power?”

On Monday opposition MPs said the government had yet to table regulations governing the controversial investment programme – regulations which would give parliament a say in naturalisations.

Up until now, the cabinet had sole authority and discretion to grant passports under the citizenship-by-investment programme. But a law passed in February 2019 stipulated that as of January 31 this year parliament would be included in the decision-making process.

The government was also supposed to submit the new regulations to parliament by that cutoff date – but it has not done so.

Legislators therefore warned the government that it would be breaking the law if it approved any passports for which applications were filed beyond January 31.

Responding to Akel, the interior ministry said the regulations have already been drafted and forwarded to the ad hoc committee for its feedback.

The panel’s views are necessary before the regulations are sent to parliament, hence the delay, the ministry said.

It further stated that, whereas the cabinet will continue to evaluate citizenship applications filed prior to January 31, it would not be granting any citizenships for applications filed after that date.

The ministry went on to clarify that there is no confusion – as alleged by Akel – over the mandate of the ad hoc panel.

Its terms of reference are to assess whether the announced passport revocations are lawful and valid, and to present recommendations to the government on ways of improving the citizenship-by-investment scheme in general.

At the same time, and in parallel, the interior ministry is conducting a broader reassessment of all passports granted until 2018, when stricter screening was introduced.

One of the individuals whose passport was to be revoked is believed to be businessman Jho Taek Low, wanted by Malaysia in connection with financial crimes.

To date approximately 4,000 naturalisations have been granted under the citizenship-via-investment scheme.

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