By Dan Byrne for AMLi
Cyprus is to strip seven people of citizenship that they are deemed to have obtained by misrepresenting themselves to the government.
All seven individuals acquired citizenship through a government investment programme previously criticised by the EU as vulnerable to financial crime.
They were found to have “concealed essential facts and made false statements when submitting their application,” government spokesperson Kyriakos Kousios said in a statement.
Separately, the government will also refer 12 people to the national Chief of Police, who will investigate – with assistance from both Europol and Interpol – whether any are wanted for a serious criminal offence punishable by up to 5 years or more in prison. The same citizenship deprivation process will be used on any of these twelve if the Chief’s audit recommends it, the statement said.
The news comes just two months after an extensive investigation and whistle-blower leak by Al Jazeera in August 2020 – dubbed the Cyprus Papers.
The leak exposed more than 60 people who obtained Cypriot passports through the government’s Citizenship by Investment programme, set up as a means of providing an incentive for foreign investment into the country.
Enough evidence was found for those 60+ people to be labelled ‘high-risk’ individuals and thus not eligible for citizenship under current Cypriot and EU law, the report said.
Among the reasons for this were time spent in jail, citizenship approval coinciding with other legal proceedings against the individual, and status as a politically exposed person (PEP).
Under the citizenship programme, any individual who invests at least €2.2 million into the Cypriot economy – and fulfils other minor requirements – can apply for naturalisation and obtain a Cypriot passport.
Chief among the advantages of Cypriot citizenship are the right to live and do business in any other EU member state, as well as the power of Cypriot passports in terms of international visa-free travel.
The programme had previously been criticised by the EU as a “back door into Europe for criminals and dirty money,” Al Jazeera said.
Regulations around eligibility have been tightened over the period from 2013-2020. Any individual labelled as ‘high-risk’ is now automatically disqualified from obtaining citizenship.
Reasons for this classification include facing a criminal investigation, being associated with entities that are under US or EU sanctions, and having had a previous citizenship application in another EU member state rejected.
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