After a long delay the government on Monday tabled to parliament the regulations codifying procedures for the citizenship-by-investment programme, which has come under fire from the EU for being a potential money-laundering risk for Cyprus.
Interior Minister Nicos Nouris said the ordinances tighten up the screening of foreign nationals applying for citizenship through the scheme, which has brought in billions in investment – mostly through real estate – throughout the years.
The regulations also spell out the sanctions for a naturalised person should he or she be found to have broken the law.
They allow the state to withdraw Cypriot citizenship from a person if within 10 years of the date of naturalisation they have: been convicted in the Republic or any other country for a serious criminal offence which entails a prison sentence of five years or more; are wanted by Europol or Interpol for a serious criminal offence; or have been placed on a sanctions list.
“These regulations reinforce in the best possible way the credibility of the investment programme, while the key provisions relate mostly to linking the programme to money laundering laws,” Nouris said after a session of the House interior committee.
The ordinances additionally hold accountable entities registered as service providers assisting foreign nationals in filing their applications.
“From now on,” said Nouris, “screening of applicants does not begin from the moment they file an application to the interior ministry, but rather once they select their service provider.”
Service providers will retain their status for one year only, after which they will need to renew their licence.
And they will be held responsible should any issue arise with a person’s application.
Responding to queries from lawmakers, Nouris said the government has not processed any applications filed after 31 January this year.
These have been put on hold, and will be processed once the new regulations are passed. The only applications currently being examined are those filed in 2019.
Asked about the 29 citizenships previously flagged because the beneficiaries were subsequently linked to criminal investigations overseas, financial scandals, or as having ties to authoritarian governments, the minister conceded there are legal obstacles preventing the revocation of these passports.
Nouris insisted the citizenship-by-investment programme is not directed solely at real estate, arguing that construction spills over and benefits the tourism industry as well.
He said applicants must invest a minimum of €2m in Cyprus, of which €500,000 into a residence. Once naturalised, the person will maintain the residence for life.
In addition, successful applicants will contribute a €75,000 fee to the Cyprus Land Development Corporation, and another €75,000 to the Research and Innovation Foundation.
Though welcoming the introduction of the regulations, opposition MPs voiced concern that the changes are but cosmetic.
“The bills and regulations before us are characterised by ambiguities, they are overly complex and contain loopholes, which unfortunately leave open the possibility for creating the same problems we had in the past,” said Eleni Mavrou, Akel MP and chair of the house interior committee.
“In short, this is more or less much of the same, and we are concerned that certain clauses disregard government zoning and favour a small number of large developers, rather than the economy as a whole.”