The release of the auditor-general’s report on the citizenship by investment scheme nine days ago sparked a political row in which everyone has become involved – the political parties, presidential candidates, the government, audit office, the bar association, and the attorney-general’s office. For nine days we have been hearing accusations of corruption, deception, hypocrisy, misinformation and lies.
On one side, the opposition parties as well as the independent presidential candidates have been exploiting the findings of the report to attack the government and reinforce their argument about the need for change. The Anastasiades government was responsible for the corrupt practices and turning a blind eye to irregularities and indiscriminate granting of citizenships, which brought the country into disrepute internationally.
The government’s main defence was to claim that previous governments had given citizenships, but the auditor-general made no reference to this in his report. It was disingenuous to mention this considering that in five years the Christofias government issued 122 passports to foreign investors compared to the Anastasiades government’s 7,000 plus. But this made it clear that the government’s intention was to confuse.
Disy deputy leader and former finance minister Harris Georgiades also helped this effort by claiming no money was lost by state through the reduced VAT law for primary residences. Odysseas Michaelides had claimed the state had lost some €200 million due to the authorities allowing foreign investors to pay 5 per cent instead of 19 per cent VAT on the first 200 square metres of the luxury homes they bought. Ironically the VAT reduction was intended to help young couples buy a home and not foreign investors wanting EU citizenship.
This prompted Michaelides to join the political bickering on Tuesday. He responded by citing the relevant laws on reduced VAT and the EU directive on the matter, specifying that this could be used as a social policy. He accused the former tax commissioner of “unlawfully” allowing foreign investors to take advantage of this benefit as part of the citizenship by investment scheme, claiming it was an abuse of power on his part. He also speculated that he may have been following orders from the then minister in allowing the reduced VAT for foreign investors.
So far there have been four investigations into the citizenship by investment scheme – one by the president of the Cyprus Securities and Exchange Commission, one by the retired president of the Supreme Court and two by the auditor-general. All attributed responsibility to the government and state services for what happened, but all stopped short of spelling out the personal responsibility of President Anastasiades, the driving force of the scheme. Could all these irregularities have taken place without the go-ahead of the president?