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Ministry denies claim that Vietnamese investor was granted Cypriot citizenship while in custody there

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The interior ministry on Wednesday rubbished claims that the state granted citizenship to a Vietnamese investor while he was arrested in custody at his home country.

“The person in question has not been naturalised as a Cypriot citizen,” the interior ministry said in a written statement, notwithstanding reports

It added however, that it granted citizenship to his family, which in 2021 it decided to revoke, without clarifying the reasons.

“Cabinet decided on October 8, 2021 to revoke the Cypriot passport of his wife and children which they granted to them on May 15, 2019,” the ministry said.

The revocation of the family’s naturalisation is currently before the Independent Examination Committee for Deprivation of Citizenship, it added.

The ministry was responding to a report published in Phileleftheros suggesting that the specific investor had applied for a Cypriot passport while he was wanted for a serious crime in Vietnam.

According to the article, his application proceeded normally even after he was arrested and was in police custody. He was eventually granted citizenship, the report claims.

Asked about the specific case by the Cyprus News Agency (CNA), police spokesman Christos Andreou said: “Another case has been forwarded to the legal service,” without providing any details.

A similar response was provided by Attorney-general Giorgos Savvides, who was also contacted to comment on the report.

“Any case that comes before us is studied with due diligence and our decision is forwarded to the competent authorities,” Savvides said.

Meanwhile, police said there are currently four cases related to naturalisations before the legal service after the fallout of the investment for passport scheme.

Andreou told CNA the four cases include one person who was related to the undercover Al Jazeera documentary. The almost hour-long expose, released in full on October 12, 2020, 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.

“The testimony that was needed has been secured,” Andreou said, explaining that police sent specific recommendation to the legal service and are awaiting directions.

He added police are close to completing the files of two more cases, while others are at an advances stage. Police are investigating over 100 naturalisations.

“These are cases that are very difficult to investigate and complex…It takes time and it is often it is necessary to obtain testimonies from abroad,” Andreou said.

To speed up the process, ten additional investigators were hired according to the police spokesman.

Meanwhile, the first criminal case concerning the naturalisation of foreign investors and businesspeople is pending before the Larnaca court following the findings of the report prepared by the ad hoc three-member panel headed by Securities and Exchange Commission chief Demetra Kalogerou. The case was filed in court in May 2021.

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 Cyprus pulled the plug on its controversial citizenships programme on November 1, after the undercover Al Jazeera video was published.

Despite that, the interior ministry continued processing applications filed before the programme’s termination.

A new scheme for permanent residency was also introduced. This had already existed but was revised and expanded.

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