Opposition MPs on Thursday accused President Nicos Anastasiades of playing ‘hide and seek’ over his private trips to the Seychelles using aircraft operated by a Saudi businessman who benefited from the citizenship-by-investment (CBI) scheme.
The House watchdog committee went through Anastasiades’ written responses to a questionnaire they sent him a month ago regarding his two journeys to the Seychelles – the first in August 2015, the second in August 2018.
The responses were read out by the director of the president’s office, leaving lawmakers singularly unimpressed.
Anastasiades said that while it was proper for parliament to exercise its oversight role, the affair has devolved into a ‘trial’ nosing into his personal life.
The president reiterated that he paid for the first trip out of his own pocket, while the Saudi owner of the airline paid for the second as a ‘gesture.’
Both aircraft in question were operated by Jet Stream Aviation Jeddah.
The president – a trained lawyer by profession – said he never concealed any of his travels when testifying before a committee of inquiry looking into the CBI programme.
The reason he did not mention the 2015 trip to the committee, he said, was because the sole matter of discussion at the time was his free flight in August 2018 “and because it was well known that the 2015 trip was not free but paid with family expenses”.
Anastasiades said the cost of the 2015 flight was commensurate with the charter fees charged to the state. Because of the low price tag, he added, there was no question of embezzlement of public funds.
He added that he never denied having friendly relations with the Saudi businessman, but this relationship never entailed a quid pro quo.
On whether he had any connection to a company or financial institution in the Seychelles, the president said no.
And through the director of his office, Anastasiades conveyed he had nothing more to say on the subject.
Speaking to the media later, committee chairman Zacharias Koulias said that, after all the back and forth, the president has not presented proof of the airfares in question.
Diko chairman and MP Nicholas Papadopoulos spoke of an ongoing “hide and seek” on the part of the president.
“Clearly, the president had been asked several days ago to answer as to whether the private jet – which today he admitted for the first time he used to fly to the Seychelles in 2015 – was granted either free of charge or on favourable terms.
“If the plane was provided at a low rate, as the president stated, then a major political issue arises over possible quid pro quo to help the Saudi, whose second wife was granted citizenship days later, illegally.”
Papadopoulos said that if this plane was granted to Anastasiades and his family free of charge, this could mean that the president committed perjury before the committee of inquiry.
“Once again we call on the president of the republic to stop hiding, to tell the truth, produce proof of payment if such exists and, if the proof does not exist and he has lied, he should apologise to the people of Cyprus.”
According to what was heard in the House watchdog committee back in early February, on August 18, 2015 – six days after Anastasiades’ first trip to the Seychelles – the second wife of the Saudi businessman applied for Cypriot citizenship as well. The cabinet approved her application on the very next day, August 19.
This particular case was flagged by both the auditor-general and by an ad hoc committee looking into high-risk naturalisations under the CBI, because Cypriot law does not provide for naturalising second spouses or for polygamy.