It was surprising to read a few days ago that an investigation by the office of auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides had concluded that the procedure followed by the council of ministers in granting citizenships to the relatives of investors, from April 2013 to August 2020, was incompatible with the law. The granting of citizenships to relatives also meant loss of revenue for the state, the audit service said, implying that every member of an investor’s family should have made the required investment to be eligible.
In the draft conclusions of its investigative report, the audit service criticised the discretionary powers given to the council of ministers by the 2013 law, allowing it to grant citizenship “in very exceptional circumstances” that included investors who did not satisfy the criteria. It was backed by lawyer and former Diko deputy Andreas Angelides, who said that as legislation had no provision for the granting of citizenship to relatives, doing so constituted an “abuse of power.”
Why had they needed seven years to arrive at this conclusion? Michaelides, like deputies, had seen citizenship files on many occasions in the past and not once had he found procedures incompatible with the law or raised objections about the granting of citizenships to members of an investor’s family. Why has he suddenly taken the moral high with some deputies attacking a scheme that despite its deficiencies and weaknesses helped the recovery of the economy?
Back in 2013, when the banking sector was shaking, the economy was deep in recession and thousands were using food banks to survive, people forget how desperate the country was for foreign investment. The requirement of the scheme at the time was the deposit of €5 million in a Cypriot bank for three years. Having given adequate liquidity to the banks the scheme was changed in 2016. Are we now going to take away the citizenships of the wives and children of the investors, as Michaelides and Angelides suggest because these were allegedly, incompatible with the law?
Why had the two gentlemen, a single deputy or any official not pointed this out for seven years? The relevant law was amended in 2013 to give the power to the council of ministers to set the criteria for the citizenship by investment scheme. All subsequent schemes were prepared in the same way and were published in the official gazette and the website of the interior ministry. Nobody expressed any objection to them. Michaelides has even less excuse than the others, considering he had seen many citizenship files in the last few years without uttering a word about their legality.
Of course, there were weaknesses and deficiencies in the citizenship scheme; there may also have been dubious official decisions. Everyone accepts this, which is why all files, from as far back as 2007, will be re-examined so that problematic cases are identified and, where necessary, citizenships revoked. Is Michaelides raising a fuss now out of sheer vindictiveness because he was prevented from carrying out his own investigation, or has he also anointed himself a legal expert?