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Audit office doubles down on probing naturalisations

The audit office of the Republic

The audit office on Friday said it would further investigate the naturalisation of foreign investors approved by the cabinet after last August when stricter regulations had been passed by parliament.

The decision was taken, the audit office said, after emerging during checks by the deputy ministry for tourism that between 2018 and 2020 eight directors in a holding company of the firm managing the Ayia Napa marina, obtained Cypriot citizenship through cabinet decisions in violation of the applicable criteria.

“The auditor-general, exercising the power given to him by Article 116 of the Constitution to control public revenues, decided to extend the relevant audit, especially for cases such as the five of the above eight cases, which were naturalised after the adoption of the new legislative framework,” a statement said.

It added that the five “illegally naturalised people of Ayia Napa marina”, applied in April and May 2019 but, at their own risk, completed their application details in June 2020. “Their naturalisation took place without delay, rather with excessive speed, 2.5 months later, but by ignoring the current legal framework, resulting in the loss of a total amount of €1m from public coffers.”

The statement follows the briefing of the House watchdog committee on Thursday by Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides. He told MPs that between August 2020 and February 2021, the government granted 221 citizenships without applying the new regulations, which provided for the payment of a special contribution of €200,000 by investors to certain public organisations.

The audit office recalled that both the regulations in place until August 18 and those put in effect after that date, explicitly set as condition the possession of a residence permit in the Republic for a period of at least six months before the naturalisation. “The application for an immigration permit was usually submitted at the same time as the naturalisation application and was issued within a few weeks. Therefore, by definition, naturalisation could not be done legally until about seven to eight months have passed since the application was submitted.”

The audit office said it would issue a report with its findings that aim at answering whether the cabinet decisions for the approval of the 221 naturalisations were justified in terms of the applicable legal status. It will also investigate if there has been a delay in their examination and if so, it will be determined whether this, on a case-by-case basis, can reasonably be attributed to some form of fault or negligence on the part of the administration. It said it would also investigate, in cases of long delays, whether this can justify ignorance of the new regulations and implementation of the legal regime in force before August 18, 2020.

Responding to criticism, it said it continues its work unhindered and despite “attacks that degrade the level of public discourse and only show a lack of respect for the principles of accountability and control of those exercising public authority.”

In November 2020, when the government terminated the citizenship by investment programme, the interior ministry had said there were 1,513 pending applications. Michaelides told MPs on Thursday that the last naturalisation took place in February this year.

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