Cyprus 'broke own laws' to grant passports

·2-min read

The government of Cyprus broke its own law countless times in granting citizenship to thousands of people in a now discredited passports-for-cash scheme, an official inquiry has concluded.

In a damning indictment, a government-appointed commission of inquiry said the scheme, from which almost 7000 people benefited, was running in a vacuum for more than a decade without adequate oversight and with no checks and balances.

"Its obvious the Citizenship for Investment program operated from 2007 to 2020 with gaps and shortcomings, an inadequate legislative framework and almost no regulative framework," Myron Nikolatos, an ex-chief justice who headed the inquiry, said.

The island's cabinet, responsible for rubber stamping applications, broke the law on countless occasions, Nikolatos said, calling it "mass illegality".

Authorities would grant a passport to applicants meeting a minimum investment requirement, which had a price tag of 2 million euros ($A3.1 million) in its final form.

A Cypriot passport grants visa-free travel, working and residency rights throughout the 27-member European Union.

The scheme was popular with Russians and investors from Asia.

But more than half the passports should not have been granted, the board of inquiry said, although acknowledging it was now virtually impossible to reverse that.

Those passports were issued primarily to family dependants of principal investors for which there was no legal basis, it said.

In 85 other cases, it suggested citizenship be rescinded altogether for either "criminal or other offences".

The individuals were not identified.

Nikolatos's report is not binding.

It was handed over to the country's Attorney-General on Monday.

An earlier interim report on the same subject was given to police for perusal last month.

Cyprus' scheme was revamped and aggressively marketed from 2013 onwards until allegations of possible corruption highlighted in an expose on the al-Jazeera network last year forced authorities to pull the plug.

Nikolatos said authorities continued issuing passports to dependants even though the government was warned in 2015 and 2016 by its chief legal adviser that the practise was possibly illegal.

A spokesman for the Cypriot government said it needed to study the report's findings and would have no further comment for the time being.

An interim version of the heavily redacted report issued in April concluded fugitives piggy-backing on an application by their spouse as well as cases of the same properties being sold several times over to different investors through "cancel and release" agreements once citizenship had been obtained.

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