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Four to appear in court in September in ‘golden passports’ case

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The four individuals charged in connection with the ‘golden passports’ affair will appear in court next month to enter a plea, the police said on Tuesday.

Police spokesman Christos Andreou told the Cyprus News Agency that the first hearing in the case will take place on September 12, before Nicosia district court.

The accused have been handed the charge sheets, he added.

Earlier this month the attorney-general’s office filed the case with Nicosia district court. This is procedural – as the charges are criminal in nature, the trial itself will be later referred to a criminal court.

The indictments are based on the findings of a committee of inquiry headed by Myron Nicolatos, as well as the reveals made by the Al Jazeera network in late 2020.

The four face five counts on two charges – conspiracy to defraud the Republic, and influencing a public official in violation of the law that ratifies the Council of Europe Convention on the Criminalisation of Corruption.

The attorney-general’s office did not name the accused.

Al Jazeera’s undercover 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.

Last year the committee of inquiry here 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 from the scheme’s inception in 2007, through to August 2020.

Meanwhile the auditor-general’s office has just completed its own probe into the citizenship-by-investment scheme.

Marios Petrides, spokesman for the Audit Office, said the report’s release is scheduled for August 22. Speaking to the state broadcaster, Petrides said their findings point to “criminal offences.”

The Audit Office’s investigation focuses on the loss of tax revenue to the state – for instance foreign nationals who secured Cypriot citizenship through investment paid 5 per cent VAT on the property instead of the full 19 per cent.

The lower 5 per cent VAT rate on property is reserved only for social housing purposes.

Inevitably the affair got drawn into the presidential elections campaign, with opposition candidates seeking to put the current administration’s feet to the fire.

In a statement on Tuesday, presidential candidate Giorgos Colocassides accused the government and the ruling Disy party of having tried to stonewall the auditor-general’s investigations.

In anticipation of the release of the auditor-general’s report, Colocassides said, he put a number of questions to the Anastasiades administration, as well as to his election adversaries Nicos Christodoulides (a minister in the Anastasiades government at the time) and Averof Neophytou, leader of the Disy party.

Colocassides asked his opponents to state whether they took any actions “to denounce, or at the very least, distance themselves from the passports programme.”

He also challenged them to state publicly if they agree with his proposal for appointing criminal investigators who would look into the responsibilities of the cabinet – which had the final say on approving the citizenship applications – and the president.

“The Cypriot people deserve to know the positions of the presidential candidates on the golden passports. In this case, silence is not golden.”

 

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