Attorney-general (AG) Giorgos Savvides on Monday said careful handling and “not moves to impress public opinion”, was needed when it came to investigations into the granting of Cypriot passports to ineligible investors.
He also shot down the audit office’s insistence on investigating some of the 18 naturalisations given to people connected to the casino investment, arguing that these were part of the broader and more comprehensive investigation carried out by the independent committee he appointed last month to scrutinise all citizenships.
Savvides, while taking a swipe at Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides for the way he questioned his opinions, he said the audit office could launch its own probe after the committee’s work was completed.
He called on Michaelides to show in action the respect he says he has for the institution of the AG and its procedures and stop trying to hinder the legal service’s work.
Savvides also gave reassurances that neither he nor his deputy would allow any case to be covered up.
The four-member independent committee has been tasked with investigating all citizenships granted to foreign investors, between 2007 when the scheme was launched and August 17, 2020 which is the date the new legal framework on Cyprus’ citizenship by investment programme was put in effect.
Savvides slammed Michaelides for launching, from the moment he heard that the executive had sought the opinion of the AG on whether the audit office should be granted access to the naturalisation files, “an unprecedented campaign in media with the apparent aim of pressuring, intimidating, or even deconstructing the AG in advance.”
“Initially, he tried to diminish the AG by saying that he was not obliged to obey his legal advice, which he did not even know at the time, because, quite simply, it had not been issued by then,” Savvides said. He added that Michaelides announced he would take measures if the opinion did not satisfy him, threatened he would file criminal complaints against a minister if he obeyed the AG, and tried to deconstruct the AG and the investigating committee as non-independent, “implying that he is the only one who can conduct independent research on the subject.”
He added that after “37 such unacceptable public statements”, he wrote a letter to Michaelides and called on him to stop acting in this inappropriate way. Unfortunately, he added, and despite assurances to the contrary, he asked for more files, which fall within the jurisdiction of the investigative committee.
Savvides explained he appointed the committee having the public interest in mind and considering the recommendations of the European Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders, for a judicial inquiry into the matter at national level. He added that the committee’s task is to show, not only whether the relevant laws, criteria and procedures, the terms and conditions of the investment programme, including the economic criteria that should be met by foreign investors, have been properly implemented, but also whether any responsibilities can be attributed to anyone involved as regards their actions while exercising their duties or that could justify initiating a process of examination of deprivation of a Cypriot citizenship.
“Therefore, all applications will be screened, in their full range, against everyone involved, public figures or individuals, with full powers of attributing accountability as well as suggestions for revocation of citizenship,” Savvides said.
He added that any other parallel investigation would constitute an intervention in the committee’s work, would jeopardise the findings of the investigations but also adversely affect the rights of the persons involved, thus exploiting this to their advantage in future proceedings.
“I should further emphasise that the AG and the legal service are responsible for handling the infringement proceedings initiated by the European Commission against Cyprus,” he said, arguing that the audit office ought to realise that the procedures of the legal service should continue smoothly.
Savvides also pointed out that the investigating committee is the only appropriate body to conduct this probe since “it is the closest to legal procedure as requested by the EU,” and was instructed to examine all the naturalisation files and not to selectively evaluate a few dozen files that the audit office wishes to examine.
The two institutions have been at odds as regards the government’s refusal to hand over a July 2019 cabinet decision granting citizenship to 18 people connected to the casino investment, which, the audit office said last Saturday was essentially made “for the sake of it, outside the legal framework and in a hurry”.
The audit office said in response on Monday that though it respected the AG’s opinion, it did not agree “since it is placing the work and the powers of the investigative committee (deriving from law) above the work and the powers of the audit service (deriving from the constitution).”
“in any case, we have repeatedly expressed the view that the work of the audit office and the investigative committee are not mutually exclusive, but on the contrary can be complementary and done without any problems at the same time,” it said.
It recalled that during the probe on the Cooperative Bank by another committee, it had carried out its own probes on the issue and “had cooperated perfectly with the committee, submitted data to it and assisted her in her work.”
Finance Minister Constantinos Petrides on Monday said that he believed it was a mistake to link dodgy naturalisations with the citizenships given with regard the investment made by Melco, the company that runs the casino resort and its satellites in Cyprus.
He said this was the biggest investment to have been made in Cyprus by “a very serious and reliable company such as Melco.”
“If from the whole programme we had to choose 15 passports that we had to give for public interest purposes, these were those of Melco,” he said, adding that such a discussion harms Cyprus, whether it is used by some as a smokescreen or there are political expediencies behind it.