On Wednesday the EUobserver website carried a story under the headline, ‘Lukashenko-linked firms active in EU member Cyprus,’ and reported that Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko has family connections to at least two firms in Cyprus. The report referred to two Cypriot real estate companies – Eastleigh Trading and Dana Holdings – both of which had links to his daughter-in-law, Lilya who is married to his eldest son.
The report does not mention any irregular or illegal activities in Cyprus by either of these companies to which Lilya Lukashenko is supposedly linked – she was allegedly a director of Eastleigh Trading and named as a ‘senior officer’ in a subsidiary of Dana Holdings, which is based in Minsk. She was not among the individuals in the EU sanctions list published on October 2 either. She is not accused of having done anything unlawful by the website.
Cyprus was not accused either, with the EUobserver story relying more on the country’s badly tarnished reputation to link it with the dictatorial Lukashenko regime against which the EU had imposed sanctions. Cyprus had negative news value thanks to the Al Jazeera video released on Monday making it fair game for a ‘guilty by association’ story.
This is the island’s predicament now. Its reputation has been dealt a deadly blow by the revelations about the wheeler-dealing surrounding its citizenship by investment programme (CIP) and it may take years for Cyprus to discard this negative image. All those complaining because the government suspended the programme, such as the Chamber of Commerce (Keve) and the big project developers, should understand this was the only option under the circumstances.
There will be a big cost to the economy as Keve pointed out, but instead of complaining about this, business organisations and the government should be focusing on how to restore the country’s reputation.
A strategy with medium- and long-term objectives should be mapped out, but we should not be under the illusion that a clever public relations campaign would make all our problems go away and allow us to bring back the CIP in a few months.
Any such thoughts must be put aside because, as we know, the bad publicity sticks and often needs years to discard. We must first mend the country’s reputation before we can think of pursuing the foreign direct investment the economy desperately needs. But to do this we must also clean up our act, because a good reputation has to be earned. A publicity campaign would help but nobody will take it seriously if nothing has changed in the country.