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AG says more passport prosecutions coming soon

Attorney-general Giorgos Savvides

Attorney-general Giorgos Savvides said Monday his office will soon be filing more prosecutions relating to Cyprus’ controversial ‘golden passport’ scheme, which among others has drawn scrutiny from the European Commission.

The top law enforcement official said more cases were headed to court, as it appears that a number of individuals had taken advantage of the citizenship-by-investment scheme.

The government nixed the passport scheme late last year after a series of damning revelations by the al Jazeera network.

While acknowledging the delays in pressing charges over the affair, Savvides said it takes time to gather evidence that can hold up in court. In addition, Cypriot police had to request information from foreign countries.

The AG was speaking in parliament during a presentation of his office’s budget for fiscal year 2022.

To date the AG’s office has filed just one case, being tried before Larnaca criminal court. It relates to an Iranian who obtained a Cypriot passport through the now- defunct investment programme, allegedly falsifying his personal data to conceal he was wanted abroad. Citizenship had also been granted to his parents.

The nine defendants are the law firm Harris Kyriakides LLC Lawyers, lawyer Michalis Kyriakides and seven other individuals and legal entities.

They face a total of 37 charges, including forging government documents, circulating fake documents and conspiracy to commit an offence.

Meantime police have been combing through a dossier compiled by a committee of inquiry and released earlier this year. The inquiry found that 41 service providers (accounting and law firms, developers) had promoted applicants deemed high-risk.

Though redacted, the report flagged dozens of companies that “may have committed criminal or administrative offences, which must be investigated by law enforcement authorities.”

Giving MPs a summary of his office’s other work, Savvides said that there are some 7,500 cases asylum-related cases currently pending before the International Protection Administrative Court. This compared to 1,720 cases at the end of 2020.

Savvides noted that from 2002 to 2020, a 70 per cent decline has occurred in civil lawsuit cases filed in courts. This, he suggested, pointed to people’s lack of trust in the judicial system in seeking redress.

The AG called on MPs to push forward with legislation that will identify the buyers of all SIM cards – which police consider a vital tool in combating crime.

The relevant legislation has been pending in parliament since 2012, partly due to pushback from telecoms providers who fear losing revenue.

“But the public interest must come first,” Savvides remarked.

The official said also that a bill is in the works that would grant the attorney-general’s office full autonomy from the executive branch of government when dealing with criminal cases – in line with the recommendations of the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (Greco).

 

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