Cyprus has responded to the European Commission as part of an infringement procedure launched in relation with its controversial citizenship by investment programme that it was forced to terminate last year amid a scandal over corruption within the system.
Daily Phileleftheros reported that the Legal Service had dispatched a detailed response earlier this month, drafted with the help of an international law firm. The Commission would either accept Cyprus’ position and stop the procedure or take the island to court.
The Cypriot scheme was axed last November after an undercover Al Jazeera video showed former House president Demetris Syllouris and former Akel MP Christakis Giovanis offering help to an imaginary Chinese businessman with a criminal record to secure citizenship.
Both men were forced to resign amid a backlash over the apparent corruption in political life. The Commission however, launched infringement procedures against Cyprus after a string of damning reports that it had been granting passports to dubious individuals.
Even after terminating the programme, Cyprus continued to process the so-called pending applications, making its situation worse.
“While Cyprus has repealed its scheme and stopped receiving new applications on November 1, 2020, it continues processing pending applications,” the commission said in June this year, and has not allayed Brussels’ concerns over this.
“Hence, today the commission decided to take the next step in the procedure against Cyprus by issuing a reasoned opinion. The commission considers that the concerns set out in the letter of formal notice were not addressed by Cyprus,” it added.
The commission said it considers that by continuing in effect to grant citizenships, Cyprus was failing to fulfil its obligations “under the principle of sincere cooperation and the definition of citizenship of the Union as laid down in the Treaties”.
On Thursday, Interior Minister Nicos Nouris sought once more to justify the decision, arguing that the government would face legal problems if it failed to process the pending applications.
He said some were quite old and investors would have gone to court if they were not examined.
On November 1, the official date the scheme ended, the interior ministry said it had 1,413 pending applications comprising 691 from investors and 722 from dependants.
Nouris said around 160 applications were approved with the government considering the matter closed.
An independent probe into the citizenship scheme found that 53 per cent of the 6,779 citizenships granted overall were unlawful and said politicians and institutions had political responsibilities while certain applicants and service providers may be held criminally liable. The probe covered the period between 2007, when the scheme was introduced, and August 2020 when the first Al Jazeera video was released.