President Nicos Anastasiades on Thursday attributed the tanking of the citizenship-by-investment (CBI) scheme to a few bad actors, saying that whereas the programme did suffer from flaws, the corruption revelations around it have been deliberately inflated and weaponised in a bid to scapegoat him personally.
In a televised address to the nation, 24 hours ahead of the government announcing a raft of ‘anti-corruption’ measures, Anastasiades said that while he has always welcomed legitimate critique, he will not tolerate anyone smearing his name.
“For months I have abided with an unprecedented effort to drag my name through the mud, disparaging innuendo, unscrupulous allegations which go beyond the pale of political decorum and ethics.”
As the nation’s leader, he said, he would not be dragged into petty squabbling – but his address was intended to set the record straight, after which he’d refrain from any public statements until the conclusion of the passport probe.
Anastasiades spoke of a false picture around the passport scheme, for which he blamed fake news and rumour mongering on social media.
He cited the phrase attributed to Joseph Goebbels: ““If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”
And he compared the situation to recent events in the United States and the ‘false’ allegations of election fraud there, which millions of Americans came to believe, he said.
This mudslinging, he said, culminated in a wholly unsubstantiated write-up that he had personally made €300 million from the scheme and took the money to the Seychelles on private jets.
The president lambasted his political adversaries for irresponsibly blowing the weaknesses in the passport scheme out of all proportion, but also went on the offensive by accusing them of hypocrisy.
Throughout the years the provisions of the programme were well known to all the parties, and yet they never said a word.
“I readily acknowledge and assume the political responsibilities that can be laid at the doorstep of my administration. Something which, not only did we not disregard, but led the government to amend the programme six times within a space of eight years.
“Despite this, it was not possible to prevent the scheme from being abused by certain hustlers.”
Anastasiades said that after the airing of the damning video by al Jazeera, his government acted fast and immediately appointed an ad hoc committee to look into high-risk citizenships. They also set up a panel to review citizenships that could be rescinded, and also appointed a committee of inquiry to investigate the CBI from its creation in 2007 up to 2020.
The al Jazeera documentary showed then-House president Demetris Syllouris and Akel MP Christakis Giovanis ready to help a (fictitious) Chinese businessman with a criminal record secure a Cypriot passport.
“At the same time,” added Anastasiades, “some others, having no shame, allege that the investment programme was set up for the benefit of the law firm that bears my name. But they disregard the benefits enjoyed by hundreds of businesses, thousands of workers, hundreds of lawyers, auditors and other professions, of whom only a tiny minority took advantage of the programme’s shortcomings.
“They even disregard the fact that some of those who utter these insults, were among those who benefited from the programme.”
Anastasiades conceded that corruption in public life exists, but again stressed that detractors were making a mountain out of a mole hill.
He went on to cite reports by international organisations and entities such as Moneyval and Greco that noted Cyprus’ progress in combating money laundering as well as other aspects of corruption.
Praise also came from a visiting delegation of the US Congress.
In closing, the president said he could not help but feel bitter about the attacks against his person.
The anti-corruption measures to be announced on Friday, he said, will be the “single largest intervention ever made in the Republic of Cyprus, so that we can create the best possible safety net against corruption.”