The golden passport program of Cyprus grants citizenship to investors of $ 2.5 million, including alleged offenders and “potentially corrupt” officials.
THE GOLDEN PASSPORT INFORMATION LEAKED
Al Jazeera’s investigation results from more than 1,400 leaked documents, known as the “Cyprus Records” – records in the Cyprus golden passport program, released on August 24, showed 1,471 applications. Passports, including the names of 2,544 people, have received Cyprus passports from the end of 2017 to the end of 2019. The number of such nationalities is limited to 700 per year.
The investment program is known as the golden passport program of Cyprus, in which each passport requires a minimum investment of $ 2.5 million, has attracted many investors because of the Cyprus island passport in the Mediterranean automatically granting citizenship in all 27 member states of the European Union (EU). Much of the $ 2.5 million investment is focused on real estate. The investigation results were released after it was reported that at least 12 people holding “golden passports” were under criminal investigation.
Al Jazeera’s report also revealed that individuals who were granted passports in the golden passport program include political influencers (PEPs) or millionaires such as Afghan House Speaker Mir Rahman Rahmani, former Ukrainian MP Volodymyr. Zubky, Taka Mikati, brother of former Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikat and both are among the richest people in Lebanon. PEPs like Rahmani often hold the key to taxpayers’ enormous sums of money so there is a high risk of corruption, according to Laure Brillaud, a senior policy official from Transparency International. However, the leaked documents did not prove the misconduct of any PEP individual.
According to the report, 12 people from Russia, Ukraine, China Iran and Venezuela had Cyprus passports after paying at least $ 2.36 million in investments despite being under criminal investigation for corruption and fraud. The Cyprus government emphasized that all passport recipients in the golden passport program met all the criteria at that time, but said it would consider this information.
WHAT IS THE REASON?
Cyprus has increased its investment in golden passport programs to save its economy after the crisis in 2013. Since then, the country has raised $ 8 billion, mostly from Russians, for economic development. Nearly half of the passport applications come from Russia, showing that elites, business people, billionaires and criminals have bought their foothold in the EU, granting them the ability to travel, work and trade. with banks throughout the EU. In just two years, more than 1,000 rich Russians bought Cyprus passports.
At Larnaca International Airport, Russian signs show investment opportunities, luxury real estate, and advertise to many agents wishing to process citizenship applications the golden passport program. This shows how important Russia has become the plan of Cyprus. According to an Al Jazeera investigation, many Russians who apply for Cypriot citizenship are those who make money through political and economic relations with the government. Some even used to hold state positions. Under new rules introduced last year, PEP is currently prohibited from buying passports, but those who have bought can keep passports.
Nigel Gould-Davies, a Russia expert at the UK’s Institute for International Strategy, said the reason those with political ties to Cyprus, or more broadly, the EU, is because they fear wealth may be at risk. “They’re looking for a country that doesn’t scrutinize their citizenship applications too carefully, making it easier for them to deposit money and grant them citizenship,” Gould-Davies said.
Since 2014, the US and the EU have imposed Russian sanctions in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and allegations of cyberattacks and corruption. The UK and the US also imposed new sanctions after accusing Russia of poisoning a former spy, which Russia denies. The tense situation above caused the number of Russians to apply for Cyprus citizenship.
In 2014, Russian bank VTB and its subsidiaries were punished by the US and EU following Russia’s annexation of Crimea. However, Cyprus still sold EU citizenship to three senior VTB officials in May 2018. The golden passport program list of at least 9 tycoons, each with assets of up to one billion USD. More than a dozen of their relatives are current Cypriot citizens who can transfer money around the world because they can use their EU citizenship.
Following Al Jazeera’s revelations, there have been calls for changes to the investment program by nationality and the introduction of the golden passport programs and other EU member states to use. In a letter to the European Commissioner of Justice, European Parliament member Sophie in ‘t Veld said: “it is time for the Commission to move towards more assertive action”. “Clearly, the situation is becoming unjustifiable and inexplicable for EU citizens who fight for equality and anti-corruption,” the letter stated.