Finance Minister Constantinos Petrides on Monday dismissed as ”a political show” a discussion in parliament about the citizenship-by-investment programme, after the auditor-general rattled off what he said were a slew irregularities from just a cursory investigation of the controversial scheme.
Lawmakers were being briefed on a report prepared by auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides on the scheme, which has brought in billions in foreign investment but also drawn scrutiny here and overseas over a number of allegedly shady passport beneficiaries.
Opening up the discussion, Michaelides said that from naturalisations granted between 2013 and 2020, “thousands” of individuals happened to be adult relatives of the designated investors.
These individuals appeared to be piggybacking on the applications for citizenship filed by the investors themselves.
Having examined just a handful of files, the auditor-general said he found cases where the applicant turned out to be the owner of a residence on paper only, as the residence in question had still to be built.
In one instance, the investor paid the entire amount of €2 million for a residence that was not completed or had no title deed. This kind of situation, the government watchdog noted, points to “unhealthy transactions”.
In another, a person bought second-hand apartments for a price more than double that cited in land registry records.
Meaning, that either the individual was cheated, or the difference went to kickbacks.
In other instances, investors filed for the lower 5 per cent VAT for a home purchase. And in another case, an involved land developer was not even listed on the VAT register.
The findings prompted MPs to lambast the government, irking Finance Minister Constantinos Petrides who happened to be at the House finance committee on other business.
Petrides said he could not be expected to comment on the auditor-general’s findings at this time, since he hadn’t read the report.
“This should not be turned into a political show,” the minister said, but added that once he has looked at the report he’ll be available to take questions.
Citing a government study, Petrides said that during 2016-2019 the citizenship-by-investment scheme alone contributed around 1.7 per cent to GDP growth, compared to the cumulative 18.4 per cent GDP growth from all sources in the same period.
The programme has also helped created some 3,000 jobs, mostly in construction.
Last month Qatar state-owned broadcaster Al Jazeera released a selection of 1,400 Cyprus government documents pertaining to the investment programme, and which the media outlet claimed showed citizenship was “sold to dozens of foreigners linked to crime and corruption.”