Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides has reluctantly agreed to stop demanding government files concerning a probe his office was carrying out on a number of naturalisations while the investigative committee on citizenships by investment continues its work, it emerged on Wednesday.
In a joint statement, Michaelides and Attorney-general (AG) Giorgos Savvides basically said they agreed to disagree on whether the audit office ought to have access to the files it has requested on 18 naturalisations of people connected to the casino investment while the investigative committee appointed by the AG is carrying out its own probe on all naturalisations concerning foreign investors and their families between 2007 and August 17, 2020.
Michaelides’ insistence on getting hold of the files he requested and threats he would take legal action against those refusing to hand them over, prompted Savvides last week to send a stern message that he would not be intimidated.
Savvides, after accusing Michaelides of making “unacceptable public statements” and of trying to pressure and diminish the office of the AG, said the audit office could launch its own probe after the committee’s work was completed.
After a meeting on Tuesday in a bid to bury the hatchet, Savvides and Michaelides said in a joint statement on Wednesday “the two services and their heads have a long tradition of cooperation and close relations and it was a common position that this should be safeguarded and continued on the basis of principles and with respect for the independence of each service, in order to safeguard public interest.”
The attorney-general, the statement said, explained his position that, while the investigation is being carried out by the committee, it would not be appropriate for the audit office to carry out a probe at the same time. He said this probe should be postponed for later.
The auditor-general countered that the matter concerns the fundamental principles of independence of the audit office and therefore, reasons of principle dictated the continuation of the probe initiated by his office.
According to the statement, Michaelides said he respects the AG and his opinions and since the government is bound by the opinions of the AG, “despite his disagreement, at this stage, he recognises and realises he will not be handed over other files.”
He also said he would not take any legal action and that he was willing and ready to assist in the committee’s work if asked.
Michaelides also suggested that the committee could invite him to testify and to submit the report his office has prepared on five naturalisation cases and other relevant information.
The government has defended its decision as regards the citizenships given with regard the casino investment, with Finance Minister Constantinos Petrides arguing last week that the passports given in that case was for public interest purposes. He also said it was a mistake to link dodgy naturalisations with this particular case.
The four-member independent committee will investigate 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.
The government has recently scrapped the citizenship by investment programme after damning media reports on the willingness of officials to assist ineligible investors acquire Cypriot passports. The investment scheme has also landed Nicosia in trouble with the EU, after the bloc announced it was launching infringement procedures over Cyprus’ citizenship by investment programme.