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Audit office to probe pay hike for passports probe panel

The audit office of the Republic

The audit service said it will be probing a decision to raise the remuneration of a four-member panel investigating the citizenship by investment programme from €3,500 each for three months for a period to nine months to €10,000 each for three months for a period of nine months, totalling €120,000.

The raise, which was proposed by the attorney-general and approved by the cabinet, has raised eyebrows since the three officials are already highly paid public officials while the head of the panel is former Supreme Court president Myron Nikolatos.

The audit service said on Twitter it will be looking into the decision to spend €120,000 while parties have questioned the reasons behind the move.

Attorney-general Giorgos Savvides said he was the one who decided to raise the panel’s remuneration, “taking into consideration the seriousness and long duration of the task the committee in question has been asked to assume.”

Opposition Diko suggested it was an effort to manipulate the panel by the people who were under investigation while Akel MP Irini Charalambidou has asked the finance minister for explanation.

The panel was appointed by the attorney-general in September, in the wake of a report by Al Jazeera suggesting Cyprus was granting citizenships to dubious individuals.

Before that, there had been a series of other damning reports and heavy criticism from the EU, which were largely ignored by the government, which denied any wrongdoing.

The watershed moment, not just for the programme but the island’s political life, came in October after Al Jazeera aired its second report on the matter.

This time it was an undercover film showing House president Demetris Syllouris and Akel MP and developer Christakis Giovanis appearing to offer assistance in return for cash to a fictitious Chinese businessman with a criminal record to secure citizenship.

Prominent Famagusta lawyer Andreas Pittadjis also featured in the sting operation undertaken by two AJ reporters. In the film he claimed he could legally change someone’s name before securing citizenship.

Syllouris and Giovanis have since resigned, as the government was forced to terminate the programme on November 1. Police have also launched an investigation into the allegations heard in the video.

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