The cabinet on Thursday decided to revoke the Cypriot citizenship of Malaysian-born Jho Low, a fugitive wanted internationally for allegedly orchestrating the theft of $4.5bn from the Southeast Asian country’s sovereign wealth fund.
A source apprised of the matter confirmed to the Cyprus Mail the passport revocation.
The decision at the cabinet was based on the recommendation of the interior minister.
Asked whether the cabinet had on Thursday stripped any other persons of their citizenship, the source said no.
Earlier in the day, the Cyprus News Agency (CNA) had reported that the decision was taken after the interior ministry had received fresh information about Low.
CNA said that, after the government in March realised it lacked sufficient evidence to rescind Low’s citizenship, the interior ministry reached out to Interpol for additional data.
Based on this data from Interpol, the interior ministry was able to recommend the revocation of the passport.
Low was granted Cypriot citizenship back in 2015.
Despite being flagged as high-risk, local mediators filed an application on his behalf, and in June of that year, Low transferred close to €6m into an account in Bank of Cyprus.
Low reportedly bought a seaside mansion in Ayia Napa for €5m and got citizenship within a couple of days. He had also donated around €310,000 to the late ex-Archbishop Chrysostomos who put in a good word with the interior ministry.
The story broke in 2019, after the island’s citizenship-by-investment programme – also referred to as the ‘golden passports’ scheme – came under intense scrutiny.
The Malaysian businessman had remained a Cypriot citizen despite the government having launched proceedings to revoke that status in 2021.
Low is accused of having masterminded the looting of billions of dollars from Malaysia’s sovereign investment fund. For many detractors of the ‘golden passports’ scheme he became emblematic of its excess.
The case of the Malaysian featured extensively in the findings of the committee of inquiry set up to investigate the whole ‘golden passports’ programme.
Led by former Supreme Court judge Myron Nicolatos, the panel 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.
Regarding Low, Chrysostomos had confirmed having met him but that he was unaware at the time the Malaysian was under investigation for financial crimes.
“I met Mr Low. He wanted to make a donation, but I initially declined. He insisted,” Chrysostomos testified before the Nicolatos panel.
“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.
Low applied and obtained a Cypriot passport in late 2015 via the citizenship-by-investment scheme.
Although under investigation at the time, he was not officially a wanted man until October 2016 when Interpol issued a red notice on him. After the Malaysian elections in 2018, the new government there reopened an investigation and issued arrest warrants against him.
As the law stands, individuals facing the rescinding of their 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 will 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.