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Cyprus

Nine suspects in passport case acquitted

Nine suspects in a case relating to the controversial citizenship-by-investment programme were cleared of all charges by the Larnaca criminal court on Friday.

Five natural persons and four legal entities were acquitted of 36 charges in total in a case concerning the naturalisation of a foreign applicant. The criminal court issued a unanimous decision, which numbered 252 pages.

A total of five people and four companies were accused of being involved in helping to get Cypriot citizenship for an Iranian national and his family after he allegedly presented forged or tampered documents to support the request to a Larnaca law firm.

The accused were facing a total of 36 criminal charges, inter alia forgery, circulation of false documents and conspiracy to commit a crime.

The Iranian national was reportedly sought by Interpol for fraud-related crimes and for embezzling large amounts of money.

The case was first filed with Larnaca district court last May and related to the findings of an investigative committee tasked to investigate Cyprus’ citizenship-by -investment scheme.

“Today’s unanimous ruling of the court puts an end to a prosecution that was indefensible and unjustified from the outset,” a statement released by the acquitted law firm released on Friday said.

“This case was never about corruption, but about a naturalisation case for which, in March 2019, we asked the authorities to intervene, but they did nothing.

“As always, we have acted with complete transparency and have cooperated with the authorities. Our full vindication is the response of the Cypriot justice system to those who tried to question our integrity in order to serve personal interests.

“We are a law firm. The sole focus of our actions is to defend the rights of our clients and partners,” the statement concluded.

The committee’s report accused the law firm of acting as intermediaries with the intent to secure Cypriot citizenship for the Iranian national and his family, who were also issued court orders against but never located by the authorities.

In August 2020, the Al Jazeera news network aired a report – dubbed The Cyprus Papers – on the island’s citizenship-by-investment programme, based on an investigation of “more than 1,400 leaked documents.”

The network said Cyprus had been granting citizenships to dubious individuals, a claim fiercely rejected by the government, which nevertheless launched a full-scale probe into the programme, going back to 2008.

But even before the probe had time to start, Al Jazeera aired an undercover video showing former House president Demetris Syllouris and former Akel MP Christakis Giovanis offering to help a pretend Chinese businessman with a criminal record secure citizenship.

The pair were forced to resign, as the government hastily terminated the programme.

A subsequent committee of inquiry looking into the scheme issued a damning report, finding that close to 52 per cent of the citizenships had been unlawful.

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