The government green-lit close to 400 passports for foreign nationals applying under the now-defunct citizenship-by-investment (CBI) scheme, after the scheme was terminated, MPs heard on Monday.
Interior Minister Nicos Nouris, while presenting his ministry’s 2022 budget in parliament, said the cabinet gave the nod to 390 CBI applicants who had managed to file applications by October 31, 2020 – the day before the government officially nixed the programme.
The 390 Cypriot passports in question relate to foreign investors and family members. They were approved by July 31 this year.
Following media exposes pointing to corruption, the CBI was axed on November 1, 2020 – but by then 1,413 applications were pending. The 390 passports relate to these applications.
Of these 1,413 applications, Nouris said, 691 concerned the investors themselves, and 722 concerned family members.
Cyprus’ so-called ‘golden passport’ scheme had drawn scrutiny from the European Commission as far back as 2020. In October of that year the Commission officially launched infringement proceedings against the Republic. But on November 1 Cyprus pulled the plug on its controversial citizenships programme, after an undercover Al Jazeera video showed former House president Demetris Syllouris and former Akel MP Christakis Giovanis offering help to a pretend Chinese businessman with a criminal record to secure citizenship.
Despite that, the interior ministry continued processing applications filed before the programme’s termination.
That elicited the EU’s strong disapproval. In a hard-hitting statement in June of this year, the commission said it had decided to take further steps in the infringement proceedings against Cyprus regarding its CBI.
“While Cyprus has repealed its scheme and stopped receiving new applications on November 1, 2020, it continues processing pending applications,” the commission said.
“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 gave Cyprus two months to take the necessary measures to address its concerns – mainly that investors with no links to the country other than their investment were granted passports.
Nicosia has since responded to the commission’s reasoned opinion.
A committee of inquiry here in Cyprus 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 culpable. The probe covered the period between 2007, when the scheme was introduced, and August 2020.