“Don’t ask!” How Cyprus Abolished “Golden Passports”

Cyprus has announced the termination of the so-called “golden passport” program, according to which it was possible to obtain citizenship of Cyprus, a country of the European Union, investing in the Cypriot economy and real estate a total of two and a half million euros. The official name of the program is Citizenship in Exchange for Investment.

On the eve of the adoption of this decision by the Cypriot authorities, the Qatari TV channel Al-Jazeera broadcast an investigation report in which a journalist posing as a Chinese with a criminal past agreed to obtain Cypriot citizenship with a member of the Cypriot parliament, owner of a construction corporation Christakis Dzovanis and with the chairman of the Cypriot parliament Demetris Silluris. The “applicant for citizenship” does not hide that in the PRC he is accused of corruption and may be sent to prison for a long time, and the lawyer accompanying the transaction promises to solve the problem of changing the name in the passport to avoid further persecution. Filming was conducted with a hidden camera.

Cypriot President Nikas Anastasiades ordered the creation of a commission to investigate the facts set out in the report of Al Jazeera. Demonstrations took place in Nicosia against the abuse of Cypriot citizenship. The Golden Passport program has been in operation since 2002 and has brought billions of dollars to the country’s treasury.

Scandals associated with this program have flared up before, and Russian citizens who received such a passport were also involved. The European Commission has repeatedly expressed concern about the fact that citizens of the EU member state are people whose past is at least questionable. In November last year, Cypriot citizenship was revoked from almost 30 people, 9 of them – Russians, who received it under the “golden passports” program.

As the Russian-language Cypriot publication Europa-Cyprus reported this week, the Auditor General of the Republic of Cyprus Odysseas Michaelides is interested in the fact that 18 Cypriot passports have been issued to directors and shareholders of a company that is creating a system of gambling establishments. According to preliminary data, these people did not invest a cent in Cyprus: they did not purchase real estate and did not invest in the country’s economy, as required by the provisions of the Citizenship in Exchange Program. But the decision of the Cabinet of Ministers to issue them Cypriot passports was made in one day.

In early September, the Cypriot newspaper Politis published a list of people who received the so-called “golden passports” of Cyprus for investments from 2008 to 2012. Previously, the list was classified, now the “secret” stamp has been removed. The publication refers to the letter from the President of Cyprus. It says that over these four years, 141 foreigners received Cypriot citizenship, 34 of them, at the time of application, were “in the high-risk group.” Among them are Mikhail Kuzovlev, member of the board of the state corporation VEB RF; co-owner of Evraz Alexander Frolov; former member of the Federation Council from Chuvashia, co-owner of the Sintez group Leonid Lebedev; the owner of the Spar retail chain in Russia and the Tula meat processing plant Anton Belobragin; General Director of BFA-Development and widow of the former owner of Uralsib Bank Lyudmila Kogan; the owner of the ESN group of companies Grigory Berezkin and others. Press secretary of the Russian President Dmitry Peskov then said that “the list needs to be checked.”

A number of Ukrainian businessmen also received Cypriot citizenship by investment, the newspaper writes. Among them are the billionaire Igor Kolomoisky; co-founder and co-owner of the financial and industrial group Privat Gennady Bogolyubov; head of the Energy Standard group Konstantin Grigorishin; and former secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine and co-owner of the Industrial Union of Donbass corporation Vitaly Gaiduk.

Andrey Avsitidiysky

The publisher of the weekly tells about the circumstances of the cancellation of the “golden passports” program “Europe-Cyprus” Andrey Avsitidiyskiy.

– Is it true that the program “Citizenship in exchange for investment” was curtailed after the report of the TV channel “Al-Jazeera” about corruption in the issuance of Cypriot passports?

– Yes, it exactly happened, literally the next day. But the fact is that this was far from Al Jazeera’s first report. This year there have already been at least two, maybe even three. The official reaction to them was that, they say, this is just propaganda, but in fact everything is fine. Al Jazeera is a Qatari TV channel, and Turkey and Qatar have very good relations. And the Cypriot authorities had a version that this is all being done at the suggestion of Turkey in order to annoy Cyprus. But this last reportage, where journalists have already gone to an outright provocation, head-on, and it succeeded, when a lawyer, a deputy of parliament and speaker of parliament, the second person in the country, say that you can get a Cypriot passport without any problems, and no matter what a person has a past, albeit a criminal one, where is the next? After that, of course, some decisions had to be made and conclusions drawn. And that’s exactly what happened.

How did the persons involved in this report suffer? I mean the Cypriot officials, whose corruption was obvious?

– The deputy of parliament, who appeared in the report, resigned, and the head of parliament resigned, although at first he did not want to do this. His original version was this: let me temporarily suspend my powers while the investigation by the Prosecutor General’s Office is underway, and when it is over, then we’ll see what the conclusions will be. But he left under public pressure. Yesterday evening there was a rather serious rally in the capital of Cyprus, Nicosia, people protested against corruption, many Cypriots were outraged that they were so openly selling passports.

the president said, “Don’t ask me about this report, or the demon will take you away.”

And now in social networks, in the Cypriot segment, many are simply mocking the authorities openly. Over the past two days, the meme is gaining popularity, it has become exactly Cypriot, which sounds like this: “Just don’t ask me about it, otherwise the demon will take you.” Where does all this come from? Cypriot journalists, when they watched the Al Jazeera report, asked the president for comments. Well, of course, it was an event that had nothing to do with “golden passports”, but before the journalists turned to the president, he understood what the question would be, and he literally said the following: “Do not ask me about this report, otherwise the demon will take you. ” The press service has already said that it was a joke, but this phrase has already become the phrase of the year, many are repeating it in the right place and out of place. And already such anecdotes have gone, for example, the husband comes home late, the wife asks: “Darling, where have you been?” – and he replies: “Do not ask me about it, otherwise the demon will take you.”

– And the program of “golden passports” was immediately curtailed? How will those who have already applied for such a passport but have not yet received it?

– There, in the government decision, the date appears – November 1. That is, there were 18 days left until the end of October, and during this time all applications that have already been submitted, there are about 300 of them, must be considered. Plus, those people who submit documents before the end of October, their applications will also be considered.

– The European Commission has long recommended, if not curtailing this program, then at least very seriously strengthen the checks of those who apply and are going to contribute two and a half million euros for obtaining Cypriot citizenship. Why was the European Commission not heard?

– You are absolutely right, warnings were repeatedly sounded, but within the framework of the European Union these warnings, apparently, were perceived by the authorities of the Republic of Cyprus as recommendations. And there was a rather sluggish reaction. But all the same, under pressure from the EU authorities, the conditions for obtaining “golden passports” were tightened. There was a tender, there were three companies that won it, and they began to check potential candidates for such things as crime, money laundering and so on. It seems like in words everything has become much better. Well, I guess I think it has also improved in practice. Moreover, I am convinced that most of the people who received Cypriot passports in this way are still worthy people. But it is absolutely obvious that some of those who received “golden passports”, so to speak, have a past that leaves much to be desired.

– This program has brought billions of dollars to the Cyprus economy. Aside from corruption, how much did this program help the economy of Cyprus? And how seriously can its absence affect now, in your opinion?

only a very small group of people earned on this scheme

– According to official figures, from 6 to 7 billion were earned. But you need to understand where this money went. Basically, they went to the construction sector, that is, those developers who began to build high-rise buildings, and law firms that were involved in the registration of the process of obtaining citizenship. On the one hand, of course, this money, of course, helped, but many people in Cyprus say that this assistance was sent to a very narrow sector of the economy, that is, the money passed by most of the inhabitants of Cyprus. That is, only a very small group of people earned on this scheme, this is the main idea. And she sounded yesterday at a protest meeting.

– How many Russians have used this program?

– I’m afraid to tell you the exact data now, but definitely a lot. And the Russians are among the first, I think, along with the citizens of China and Arab countries.

– Is there any possibility for the resumption of such a program in Cyprus?

– I think it will be resumed, just on some other conditions. Now the hype will subside, the Prosecutor General’s Office will complete the investigation. The fact is that in Cyprus everything is happening so slowly, and we have one of our favorite words – this is “siga-siga”, in Greek it means “slowly, slowly”. Now the hype will subside, the speaker has resigned, the Prosecutor General’s Office will come to some conclusions. And I think that next year, these are, of course, my assumptions, the program will be resumed, just on different conditions. Which ones – one can only guess about this at the moment, – says Andrey Avsitidiyskiy.

Programs similar to the Cypriot one continue to operate in Malta and Bulgaria. There, to obtain a “golden passport” you need to invest a smaller amount, but the process of granting citizenship is much more complicated than in Cyprus. In addition, annual quotas for “golden passports” have been introduced there.

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