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Malaysian fugitive battles passport revocation

Malaysian businessman Jho Taek Low

Wanted Malaysian fugitive Jho Low is one of many battling the government’s efforts to rescind their Cypriot naturalisation as the cabinet aims to clean up house.

Low remains a Cypriot citizen despite the government having begun proceedings to revoke that status last year.

The disgraced businessman is accused of being the mastermind behind the looting of millions of dollars from the Malaysian sovereign investment fund. For many detractors of the “golden passport” programme Low has become symbolic of its excess as the scandal has even spawned parody accounts amongst Cypriot Twitter users.

The Church of Cyprus also featured in the case as the archbishop confirmed that Low donated €300,000 to the church.

But Low has filed an appeal against the revocation with the case ending up in the courts, while he is in the process of appointing new lawyers to represent him, daily Phileleftheros reported.

The government has sought to address concerns by revoking some passports granted through the now defunct Cyprus investment programme.

Τo date, the cabinet has revoked 52 passports based on incriminating evidence arising from investigations carried out after they were issued. The announcement of seven of these passports was made on Wednesday.

But the government has its hands tied, for the moment, as those who it is seeking to strip of citizenship must be notified of the process and have six months to file an appeal.

Should the affected person exercise their right to an inquiry, the cabinet shall refer the case to a committee of inquiry appointed by the cabinet. The members of the committee are appointed at the cabinet’s discretion.

The person may subsequently mount a legal challenge to the decision by taking recourse to the administrative court.

And should the person win the case, via a ruling stating that the citizenship revocation was unlawful or otherwise unjustified, their citizenship would be reinstated and they could even sue the state for damages.

It is understood that of those 52, are eight Cambodians – reportedly allies and relatives of the Cambodian authoritarian leader who acquired Cypriot passports in 2016 and 2017.

Interior Minister Nicos Nouris sought to emphasise this week that four people who appeared on anti-Russia sanction lists are facing the revocation of their Cypriot passports, while he has also cited the Nicolatos inquiry as grounds for rescinding passports.

The Nicolatos inquiry was appointed by the government and was led by former Supreme Court judge Myron Nicolatos who 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.

As for Low, Archbishop Chrysostomos confirmed in January of last year that he met the Malaysian – who was granted citizenship in 2015 – but that he was unaware at the time that Low was under investigation for financial crimes.

“I met Mr Low. He wanted to make a donation but I initially declined. He insisted,” the prelate testified before a panel investigating Cyprus’ now-defunct citizenship-by-investment (CBI) scheme.

“I met him over a meal at the Archbishopric. I thanked him for the donation and said it would go to the Theological School. Later I learned that the amount was €300,000.”

Chrysostomos said that around that timeframe he sent a letter to then Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos, asking him to give Low special consideration as a candidate for Cypriot citizenship.

But, he added, Low was issued a passport by the time the minister read his letter.

He applied and obtained a Cypriot passport in late 2015 via the CBI. Although under investigation at the time, he was not officially a wanted man until October 2016 when Interpol published a red notice on him. After the Malaysian elections in 2018, the new government there reopened an investigation and issued arrest warrants against him.

 

 

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