The four defendants in the ‘golden passports’ case were on Tuesday referred to criminal trial on charges that include conspiracy to defraud the Republic and influencing a public official in violation of the laws criminalising corruption.
The first hearing in the trial before Nicosia criminal court has been scheduled for October 11. It has been a year since the case has been stuck at the Nicosia district court where the defendants’ attorneys raised a series of pre-trial objections and motions.
The defendants are former House President Demetris Syllouris, former Akel MP and developer Christakis Giovani, senior lawyer for the Giovani Group Antonis Antoniou, and lawyer Andreas Pittadjis.
The charges brought against them are based on the findings of the Nicolatos investigation into the citizenship-by-investment scheme – known as the ‘golden passports programme’ – prompted by the airing of a report by the Al Jazeera network.
On October 11 the four will enter a plea.
In the meantime they have been released on conditions. Syllouris, Giovani and Antoniou each put up a bond of €50,000, and Pittadjis of €30,000.
Syllouris is being represented by a team of attorneys including Chris Triantafyllides; Giovani and Antoniou are represented by attorney Giorgos Papaioannou; and Pittadjis, himself an attorney, is representing himself.
In June this year state prosecutors withdrew the case for technical reasons – a change in the composition of the court. The case was re-filed shortly after.
The defendants had first appeared before Nicosia district court on September 12, 2022. The attorney-general filed the case in July of that year.
Al Jazeera aired its damning report in October 2020.
In the documentary, all four defendants told an undercover reporter posing as the proxy for a fictitious Chinese criminal that they were willing to help him obtain a Cypriot passport and become a citizen of the European Union – for a price.
They said they would help him acquire a passport through the citizenship-by-investment scheme.
However, convicted criminals were officially barred from applying, which would have disqualified the pretend Chinese client.
Syllouris, at the time House President, told the undercover reporters that their criminal boss would have his “full support.”
He said: “You can tell him that he will have, without mentioning my name or anybody else’s, full support from Cyprus. At any level – political, economic, social, everything.”
Asked if the criminal applicant would receive a passport, Syllouris said: “I cannot say 100 per cent but I say 99 per cent.”
As for Pittadjis, he said the client’s name could be changed on the passport, giving him a completely new identity, and making his criminal record undetectable.
This would allow a criminal to move money and travel through the EU without raising alarm.
When the undercover journalists asked Pittadjis if he had previously changed a client’s name for a passport, he replied, laughing: “Of course, this is Cyprus!”
Later that same month, the government nixed the passports programme.